Toyota strikes deal that could bring autonomous cars to masses
SAN FRANCISCO - Silicon Valley-based autonomous-driving start-up Aurora Innovation has agreed to a long-term strategic partnership with Toyota and its supplier Denso with the aim of mass producing autonomous vehicles as well as launching 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 in the US.
Toyota, which overtook Volkswagen as the world's top-selling carmaker in 2020, is also an investor in Uber Technologies.
"This is a really exciting set of developments," Sterling Anderson, Aurora's chief product officer, said 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 start-ups racing to commercialise its self-driving technology, along with Google’s unit, which was later renamed Waymo, Amazon’s Zoox General Motors' Cruise. Toyota, which has long preferred to develop new technology in-house, has been coy about its autonomous ambitions.
"Toyota is dedicated to creating and realising 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's Google unit, and he directed Tesla's Autopilot efforts.
The startup has struck several deals in recent months. In December, it acquired Uber's autonomous division in December. The merger boosted Aurora's employee count to about 1600, 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.