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We posed the following question on a recent episode of The Robot Report Podcast: why did Aurora buy Uber’s Advanced Technology Group (ATG)? Well, it appears access to Uber’s existing investors and partners was a big reason why.
Aurora today announced a partnership with Toyota and Denso. The companies will develop a fleet of autonomous Toyota Sienna minivans that are equipped with Aurora’s self-driving technology. Aurora said a test fleet will be deployed by the end of 2021. The vehicles will then “some time after that” be deployed in ride-hailing fleets for Uber and other unspecified companies. Aurora and Toyota plan to test the vehicles at their facilities in the Bay Area, Pittsburgh, Michigan and Texas.
When Uber ATG spun out of Uber in 2019, Toyota and Denso, along with the Softbank Vision Fund, contributed to a $1 billion funding round. And Toyota and Uber already had a similar deal in 2018. After a $500 million investment from Toyota, Uber ATG’s self-driving technology was supposed to be added to Sienna minivans for use in Uber’s ride-hailing network. Of course, that never transpired.
Aurora, however, maintains this is a new deal that expands on prior partnerships. It added that this “long-term, global and strategic collaboration” is designed to build and globally deploy self-driving cars at scale. Aurora will collaborate long term with Denso, a Japanese automotive components manufacturer, on mass production of components and with Toyota on solutions to deploy the vehicles, like financing, insurance and maintenance. In the short term, Aurora’s self-driving technology will be added to the fleet of Toyota Sienna minivans.
“Toyota has an unparalleled legacy, engineering expertise, leadership, and ability to deliver high-quality, affordable, and reliable vehicles,” said Aurora CEO Chris Urmson. “They’re also the preferred vehicle brand for transporting riders on ride-hailing networks, so we’re excited and honored to work with them to unlock driverless mobility services with the Aurora Driver. Our development work on highway driving to support our first commercial product, a driverless truck, will also be critical for safely moving people, as a significant fraction of ride-share bookings today require the ability to drive over 50 mph.”
Toyota overtook Volkswagen AG as the world’s top-selling automaker in 2020. Locking in a partnership with an automaker of this scale should be a major development for Aurora as it competes with Cruise, which is owned by General Motors, Waymo, and other developers of robotaxis.
“Toyota is dedicated to creating and realizing mobility for all by focusing on technology that will move people safely and responsibly, a vision Aurora shares with us,” said Keiji Yamamoto, operating officer of Toyota and president of Connected Company. “By combining our expertise and know-how in vehicle control systems, mass-production, Connected Car technology, and our advanced safety support systems with Aurora’s industry-leading approach to self-driving technology, we aim to commercialize and deliver safe, high-quality, and affordable autonomous ride-sharing vehicles and services.”
Uber sold its self-driving division to Aurora in December 2020, ending a rather tumultuous era. Uber invested $400 million into Aurora to take a 26% stake in the combined company. Aurora said the Uber deal raised its valuation to $10 billion.
Founded in 2017, Aurora recently shifted its main focus to autonomous trucks, saying its first commercial autonomous vehicle will be in trucking. In January 2021, it partnered with PACCAR, a manufacturer of medium- and heavy-duty trucks based in Bellevue, Wash. The partnership with PACCAR will connect Aurora with a network based on trucking, freight and logistics. Aurora will provide the self-driving technology, while PACCAR will provide the vehicles, transportation solutions and production support.
Aurora is currently testing vehicles on public roads in California, Pennsylvania and Texas.