Aurora partners Toyota to produce autonomous vehicles

Toyota

Aurora Innovation Inc 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.

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.

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 in December. 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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