Home delivery — of cooked meals, groceries, electronics and so much more — is the new norm. But your next delivery in parts of southwest Houston could come via something that is anything but normal or ordinary.
Door-to-door service has taken a giant step into the future with driverless delivery cars in Houston. A partnership of the City of Houston and California-based NURO, a robotics company, provides self-driving, autonomous vehicles, for accessible and affordable deliveries to residences. Working with companies like Kroger, Walmart, CVS and Domino’s Pizza, these vehicles service communities in Houston residing in the 77096, 77025 and 77035 and other zip codes.
In April 2019, District K Council Member/Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Castex-Tatum was invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony at Kroger to introduce the new service to the 77096 zip code. The program quickly expanded to include 77035, one of the most densely populated areas in the city.
“I was excited to see that this company was looking beyond the wealthier areas but was looking to serve everyone with this service,” Castex-Tatum said. “The fact that NURO is giving back time to everyday people who are struggling to work, take care of their families, running errands to pick up medication or any other goods, as well as helping to meet the needs of people without reliable transportation or who are unable to drive,” is a benefit for residents in the service areas.
The NURO partnership with Domino’s Pizza was a perfect match. The company had been unable to keep enough drivers to meet the demand for delivered pizzas during the pandemic. “Domino’s Pizza was ahead of the curve, so to speak, in meeting the need of the community with safe delivery service,” Castex-Tatum said.
She said the online service is simple. You choose the form of delivery — driverless or not — and pay a nominal fee, but NURO is hoping to offer the service free of charge in the future. After selecting NURO delivery, choose time of delivery. The service keeps you updated of your delivery status via texts. Once your vehicle arrives curbside, you are sent a log-in number. Enter the number on the vehicle keypad. The vehicle doors will open, and you can retrieve your items.
Once you retrieve your items and press “complete,” the doors will close and NURO is on its way to its next assignment. Recently, the service piloted a completely contactless delivery. To avoid contact with surfaces others may have touched recently, you can use your cell phone to open and close the vehicle doors.
The autonomous vehicles are also a safety benefit. They don’t take up as much room on the roads as regular vehicles. Robots aren’t distracted by texts, phone calls and other things that divert a driver’s attention.
“The safety of these vehicles is paramount. It is the most important aspect of what NURO does,” Castex-Tatum said.
Castex-Tatum is working on creating NURO partnerships with local schools to expose students to high-tech job opportunities with NURO and companies like it.
When Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said, “The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life,” he may have been talking about, technical advances serving our basic needs. Welcome to the road, NURO.
-by Jessika Leal