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Nuro’s Autonomous Delivery Vehicle Features a Huge External Airbag

Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicle, with external airbag | Photo: Nuro
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Daniel Rufiange
The idea of an external airbag isn’t new, but the advent of driverless delivery vehicles has given it new relevance
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Like it or not, there will be self-driving vehicles on the road, or on dedicated portions of the road, in the not-too-distant future. Some of those vehicles will have a human being ready to take over commands if needed, but others will be operating all on their own, with no one inside.

Those, of course, are delivery vehicles. And for companies looking to reduce operating costs, they are an intriguing possibility. And not only won’t there be a driver drawing a salary, there won’t be one taking up space either, meaning the vehicles can be maximized for cargo space.

One feature that won’t be needed in the absence of interior occupants is airbags. Although, a new vehicle just previewed by Nuro, a leader in autonomous-drive technologies, shows there is a need for that safety feature just the same. The latest version of the delivery vehicle conceived by the company features a huge airbag… located on its outside.

The vehicle shown bears the name of its creator, Nuro, and it’s the third generation to be presented. It has compartments that can hold up to 500 lb of stuff, including, from the looks of it, both hot and cold food and groceries. The layout of cargo bins reminds us of nothing so much as those cantine trucks that visit plants, warehouses and other businesses to serve workers.

The vehicle's system can keep food cool down to -5.5 degrees Celsius or warm up to 47 degrees Celsius.

Now, about that airbag: as you can guess, its purpose is to protect vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, who actually account for more than half of all road deaths worldwide each year. The idea may seem odd at first glance, but it gets less odd when you consider the relative damage done to vulnerable people and objects by a glorified air mattress rather than a hard, flat, metal surface.

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Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicle, fig. 2
Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicle, fig. 2 | Photo: Nuro

Nuro produced the system with partner Autoliv, a Swedish company based in Stockholm, Sweden that makes passive and active safety equipment for the automotive sector. It is the world's leading manufacturer of airbags and seatbelts.

“Autoliv’s collaboration with Nuro is an excellent example of how we are now combining our core competence and solid industry experience with the development of products for new markets,” Per Lindeberg, VP Mobility Safety Solutions at Autoliv, explained.

Will we see Nuros on the road eventually? We wouldn't bet against it, but of course it will take time before the technology is perfected and authorities get down to the business of regulating the use of self-driving vehicles on our roads.

In the meantime, bright minds might well take the concept of the external airbag and make use of its themselves. It has already been studied, by the way, including by ZF in 2019. It’s an idea that’s not new but whose time might be coming.

Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicle, fig. 3
Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicle, fig. 3 | Photo: Nuro
Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicle, fig. 4
Nuro's autonomous delivery vehicle, fig. 4 | Photo: Nuro
Daniel Rufiange
Daniel Rufiange
Automotive expert
  • Over 17 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 75 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 250 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists