Aurora has signed a contract with Toyota and auto parts maker Denso to develop and test vehicles powered by the self-driving startup’s technology, starting with a fleet of Toyota Sienna minivans.
The Aurora and Toyota engineering teams will work together to design and build the Sienna self-driving minivans, with a goal of starting fleet testing by the end of 2021, the companies said Tuesday.
The announcement follows Aurora’s acquisition of Uber Advanced Technologies Group, which was spun off from Uber in 2019 after the entity raised $ 1 billion from the Vision Fund of Toyota, Denso and SoftBank. The acquisition, which closed on January 20, was a complex deal in which Uber turned over its stake in ATG and invested $ 400 million in Aurora. Uber now has a 26% interest in the combined company. As a result of the acquisition, Toyota also has a minority stake in Aurora.
The partnership announced on Tuesday is similar – at least in part – to a 2018 agreement between Toyota and Uber to launch an on-demand autonomous hail service. Under that deal, which included a $ 500 million investment from Toyota, the companies agreed to incorporate Uber ATG’s self-driving technology into the Sienna minivans for use on Uber’s hail network. The vehicles could later be owned and operated by outside fleet managers, Toyota and Uber ATG said at the time.
Aurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson stressed that this is a new partnership, and not just an extension of Toyota’s agreement with Uber ATG.
Toyota and Aurora declined to reveal details like the size of the team or the financial incentives associated with the deal, making it difficult to determine the scope of the collaboration.
However, Aurora describes this as a long-term strategic deal and set an ambitious vision for a partnership that goes well beyond testing. Aurora said the joint development work in 2021 will lay the groundwork for mass production and launch of these vehicles with Toyota on hail networks, including Ubers. Aurora said it will also look into mass producing autonomous driving components with Denso and creating a service platform with Toyota that could manage the financing, insurance and maintenance of the self-driving vehicles.
The story goes on
Anderson noted that the development of these commercial downstream services such as fleet management has become increasingly important to the company following the agreement with freight forwarder PACCAR and now Toyota.
“We need a vehicle, we need a driver and we need support services,” Anderson said in a recent interview. “One of the areas we’re exploring with Toyota as part of this project is the scaled-up deployment of Toyota-built vehicles powered by the Aurora driver and backed by a combination of Aurora’s support services and Toyota’s network. This is one of the areas where Toyota’s greatness becomes so important to us. “
The road from testing to commercialization is long and full of potential fluctuations in speed, including technical and regulatory challenges that compete with competitors for skilled workers and raise sufficient capital. Achieving these goals is not always synonymous with success, as operating an autonomous hail network has its own set of hurdles. The result: Aurora’s partnership with Toyota is not a guarantee.
Still, it’s still important for Aurora to partner with a major automaker.
“Toyota has an unparalleled heritage, technical expertise, leadership skills and ability to deliver high quality, affordable and reliable vehicles,” wrote Chris Urmson, Aurora Co-Founder and CEO, in a blog post Tuesday. “They are also the preferred vehicle brand for transporting drivers on hail networks. We are excited and honored to be working with them to unlock driverless mobility services with the Aurora driver.”
Urmson added that Aurora’s road transport development work in support of its first commercial product, a driverless truck, “will also be critical to the safe movement of people, as a significant portion of today’s ridesharing requires the ability to travel above 50 mph to drive.”