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Aurora Partners With Toyota in Bid to Bring Autonomy to Masses

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Dana Hull
·3 min read
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(Bloomberg) -- Aurora Innovation Inc., a Silicon Valley-based autonomous-driving startup with at least a $10 billion valuation, has agreed to a long-term strategic partnership with Toyota Motor Corp. and its supplier Denso Corp. that aims to mass produce autonomous vehicles and launch them on ride-hailing networks, including Uber’s, over the next few years.

The first model that will be equipped with the Aurora Driver, the company’s hardware, software and sensor suite, is the Toyota Sienna minivan, with testing of an initial fleet to begin this year. Toyota, which overtook Volkswagen AG as the world’s top-selling automaker in 2020, is also an investor in Uber Technologies Inc. and has a formidable brand that has long been associated with high volume manufacturing and safety. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Toyota will gain an observer seat on Aurora’s board.

“This is a really exciting set of developments,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s Chief Product Officer, in an interview. The company is a key player in the intensely competitive self-driving vehicle industry. “We’re partnering with the largest automaker and the largest ride hailing network. It’s not just the development of the vehicle, but development of the service.”

Aurora is one of several leading startups racing to commercialize its self-driving technology, along with Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, which was later renamed Waymo, Amazon.com Inc.-owned Zoox Inc. and General Motors Co.’s Cruise LLC. Toyota, which has long preferred to develop new technology in-house, has been coy about its autonomous ambitions. The Japanese carmaker struck a similar agreement with Chinese driverless startup Pony.ai Inc. in 2019, which it firmed up last year with a $400 million investment.

“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,” Keiji Yamamoto, operating officer of Toyota and President of Connected Company, said in a statement.

Aurora is testing on public roads in California, Pennsylvania and Texas, with an initial focus on completing long-haul, commercial trips. The company’s three co-founders have a deep history in the self-driving industry. Chief Executive Officer Chris Urmson previously led the autonomous team at Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, which was later renamed Waymo. Anderson directed Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot efforts, and Chief Technology Officer Drew Bagnell, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon, was part of the 2015 academic exodus that formed Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group.

The startup has struck several deals in recent months. In December, it acquired Uber Technologies Inc.’s autonomous division. The merger boosted Aurora’s employee count to about 1,600, including hundreds who are based in Pittsburgh, an epicenter of robotics thanks to the talent pipeline at Carnegie Mellon University. Aurora also entered into a strategic partnership with Paccar Inc., the maker of light, medium and heavy-duty trucks, last month.

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