Aurora Innovation emerges from shadows

Aurora Innovation emerges from shadows

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Anderson: Alliances built

LAS VEGAS — One year ago, three self-driving veterans came together to work on autonomous cars, bringing a certain amount of name recognition and firepower to their budding business.

The new company, Aurora Innovation, had its coming-out party at CES last week. The self-driving startup founded by self-driving executives from Tesla, Google and Uber is developing a Level 4 to Level 5 autonomous vehicle platform with automakers that will support the transition to new technologies.

Building platforms instead of cars is not an entirely new business strategy. That is at least part of the business plan at Waymo, the Google subsidiary leading the self-driving space. But it’s not a business plan with a strong track record. At least not yet.

“It was an unproven hypothesis when we started,” Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s chief product officer, told Automotive News. But Anderson said the company can tell automakers are interested in this collaborative process. “It’s been validated by the number of partnerships we’ve formed.”

Aurora, which launched early last year, has been operating in relative silence. Aurora was jolted out of stealth mode in January 2017 when Tesla sued Anderson, the former head of Tesla’s Autopilot, and Chris Urmson, the startup’s CEO and former director of Google’s self-driving project, accusing them of stealing company trade secrets. The suit was dropped less than three months later after the parties came to an agreement. And then Aurora went quiet again.

Aurora went into CES announcing partnerships with Volkswagen and Hyundai.

“Over the course of the last year, we’ve been building the team, the technology and a set of partnerships with world-class companies who share our vision,” Anderson said. “With our Volkswagen work now reaching advanced stages of integration and the Hyundai partnership underway, we felt it was the right time to start to pull back the curtain.”

Strong alliances

The week before CES kicked off, Aurora announced it had been working with Volkswagen and Hyundai on autonomous vehicle development. It started working with Volkswagen six months ago, integrating its self-driving platform into the automaker’s concept vehicles.

In its agreement with Hyundai, Aurora is co-developing vehicles for robotaxi pilots planned for launch in 2021. Jinwoo Lee, Hyundai’s vice president of intelligent safety, said the automaker historically has kept technology development in-house, but it brought Aurora on because it has core competencies in self-driving the automaker has yet to develop.

“Aurora’s strength is perception and decision-making,” Lee said. “In other areas, they need our help.”

At its press conference Jan 7, Nvidia, which is already working with 320 automotive companies on self-driving development, said it had added Aurora to its list of partners.

“I’m super excited to announce that one of the most exciting companies in the startup industry, a company called Aurora, they have selected Nvidia’s technology, and we’re partnering together to build an autonomous vehicle computing platform,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang.

Looking ahead

Now that Aurora has emerged from the shadows, Anderson said the startup will spend the next year developing its self-driving platform; building out its partnerships with Volkswagen, Hyundai and Nvidia; and growing its teams in Palo Alto, Calif., San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

The industry is still in the early stages of self-driving car development, Anderson said. However, he expects autonomous vehicles to become a much more common sight on public roads in the near future.

“We’re excited by the progress,” Anderson said. “And we expect it to grow significantly in the next five years, starting with incremental deployment of self-driving vehicles in mobility-as-a-service fleets.”

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