Ask most of the people developing autonomous vehicles how robo-cars will change the world, and most will say safety—more than a million people die on the road every year, and self-driving cars could prevent some of those deaths. Some might say smarter cars can battle congestion. Ask Dave Ferguson, though, and he’ll pitch the idea that this technology could make moving about so efficient and affordable that transportation becomes effectively free. But first, before the zeroes and ones can do any of that, they may bring you your groceries. If you shop at Kroger, that is, and are cool with a Lilliputian pseudo-car pulling into your driveway all by itself.
Ferguson is a co-founder of Nuro, the startup making that robot, and his CV is about as good as it gets in this young industry. He got his PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, helped lead that school’s winning bid at Darpa’s 2007 Urban Challenge, and spent five years on Google’s self-driving project (now known as Waymo). He and his colleague Jiajun Zhu left Google in 2016 to start a self-driving company focused on commercial deliveries, a space Ferguson says offers the chance to offer lots of people a helpful service—one they’ll be willing to pay for—within three to five years.