Driverless tech startup Aurora adds Volvo to trucking partner

Aurora Innovation Inc., a driverless technology startup from Silicon Valley, is adding another big name to its list of self-driving truck development partners: the Volvo Group.

Volvo’s autonomous solutions unit has agreed to work with Aurora to provide driverless trucks on highways. The two companies envision trucks operating in a hub-to-hub, fully self-propelled model on expressways between transfer hubs.

“We are delighted that Volvo has selected us as their autonomy partner,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s chief product officer, in an interview.

The startup now has relationships with two of the three largest truck manufacturers. Volvo joins Paccar Inc., which partnered with Aurora on a similar development agreement in January. Last year, the truck business of Daimler AG entered into a partnership with rival Waymo, the autonomous driving unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc.

Aurora and Waymo are two of several competitors in the race to commercialize self-driving technology, along with Zoox Inc. of Amazon.com Inc. and Cruise LLC of General Motors Co. Chris Urmson, Aurora’s chief executive officer, led the autonomous team at one earlier iteration of Waymo, and Anderson previously led the autopilot driver assistance efforts of Tesla Inc.

Staggered development

The partnerships with Volvo and Paccar are part of the Mountain View, California-based startup’s tiered approach to self-driving. Aurora plans to focus first on truck driving on freeways, then develop applications for the delivery of merchandise on the last mile, and finally deploy Robotaxi passenger cars.

Last month the company partnered with Toyota Motor Corp. and its supplier Denso Corp. signed a contract to mass-produce autonomous vehicles and deploy them to hail networks, including that of Uber Technologies Inc., over the next several years.

Last week, Toyota announced that it was partnering with Isuzu Motors Ltd. and the subsidiary Hino Motors Ltd. will join forces to develop electric and driverless trucks and buses. It’s unclear if this affects Aurora’s technology. The Japanese automaker has invested in Nuro, a competitor to Aurora, to spread its betting on self-driving expertise.

Aurora’s technology is based on innovations in lidar, which uses lasers to create a three-dimensional image of the surrounding landscape and routes around obstacles on the road. The startup is a big fan of the so-called FMCW or frequency-modulated continuous wave lidar, with which vehicles can “see” further and faster and which is of crucial importance at motorway speeds.

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