US agency approves vehicle designed not to have human driver

The US government’s highway safety agency has for the first time approved a company’s request to deploy a self-driving vehicle that does not meet federal safety standards for human-driven cars and trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration granted temporary approval for Silicon Valley robotics company Nuro to run a low-speed autonomous delivery vehicle, without side and rear-view mirrors and other safety provisions required of vehicles driven by humans.

Also not on the safety feature list are windscreen wipers, steering wheels or brake pedals.

The vehicles were previously subject to federal standards for low-speed vehicles that travel under 25 miles per hour.

Nuro's self-driving vehicle R2
Nuro’s self-driving vehicle R2 (Nuro via AP)

Those did not need steering wheels or brake pedals and did not have to have human backup drivers.

Current Nuro vehicles can be monitored and controlled remotely by a human operator if needed.

In December, Nuro announced plans to use its low-speed shuttles, called R2, in partnership with Walmart to deliver groceries to customers in Houston.

The service was to start early this year and use the shuttles as well as automated Toyota Prius hybrid cars.

The small Nuro vehicles do not have a driver compartment, according to the agency.

They will be used to deliver goods for restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses.

Under the temporary approval, Nuro will have to make real-time safety reports to the agency.

Nuro will also have to hold regular meetings with the agency and reach out to the community in areas where the vehicles will travel.

“NHTSA is committed to working with industry and key stakeholders to create space for innovation while prioritising safety,” the agency said in a statement.

The agency will use enforcement powers if it finds any evidence of an unreasonable risk to safety, the statement said.

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