Aurora, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based autonomous vehicle company backed in part by Amazon, is expanding tests of its self-driving Pacifica minivans and class-8 trucks into Texas. Aurora said “in the next few weeks” a small fleet of vans will be seen on commercial routes in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area. The trucks are expected to be operating in Texas by the end of 2020.
“While the Driver will ultimately move both people and goods, our first commercial product will be in trucking – where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best and the level of service requirements is most accommodating,” the company said.
Aurora said that more than 10% all long-haul truckers in the U.S. drive in Texas, which has recently become a hotbed for autonomous vehicle testing. The Lone Star State has also been a testing ground for Argo AI, TuSimple, Uber, and Waymo. Drive.ai operated near Dallas before it was acquired by Apple.
Amazon, which recently acquired autonomous vehicle startup Zoox for $1.3 billion, also invests in Aurora. In February 2019, Aurora raised $530 million in a Series B round led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Amazon. To date, Aurora has raised $690 million in funding.
Aurora pivots to autonomous trucks
Autonomous trucks aren’t without challenges, but there’s growing consensus the paths to commercialization and profitability are easier than with robo-taxis. Aurora has since 2017 been developing a full-stack solution, called “Driver,” that it said could be applied to any type of vehicle. However, it spent its first two years publicly talking about and working on self-driving cars.
Waymo, widely viewed as the autonomous vehicle leader, recently launched its Waymo Via cargo and goods logistics service. Waymo recently expanded its first outside investment round to $3 billion, saying it will use the funding to build out both Waymo One, its ride-hailing service, and Waymo Via.
In May 2019, Aurora acquired Bozeman, Mont.-based Blackmore Sensors and Analytics, a developer of compact, robust, and cost-efficient lidar, as well as supporting analytic tools and software. Aurora said the acquisition of Blackmore and the integration of that technology into its own self-driving stack actually enabled its pivot to autonomous trucks. Aurora recently introduced its proprietary FirstLight lidar that it said “helps our perception system see and track objects farther, faster, and with greater precision than ever before.”
Aurora’s three co-founders have vast experience developing autonomous vehicles. CEO Chris Urmson previously led Google’s self-driving efforts and departed before Alphabet spun off Waymo. Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson came out of Tesla, and Chief Technical Officer Drew Bagnell has worked with the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute and Uber.