Aurora raises over $530 million for its AV Driver
On February 7th pioneering self-driving company Aurora Innovation, Inc. announced that it had secured over $530 million in Series B financing led by Sequoia. The funding and partnership will help accelerate Aurora’s mission of delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly in automated vehicles that move people and goods more safely, inexpensively, and efficiently. The news also sees Carl Eschenbach, Partner at Sequoia, joining existing external directors, Mike Volpi, Reid Hoffman, and Ian Smith, on the Aurora board of directors.
In addition to Sequoia, Amazon and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. are making significant investments in Aurora. Lightspeed Venture Partners, Geodesic, Shell Ventures, and Reinvent Capital are also participating, as are previous investors, Greylock and Index Ventures.
“There are many competitors trying to win a piece of this massive market for self-driving cars, ranging from startups and large technology players to traditional car manufacturers,” said Mike Volpi, an Index Ventures Partner, in a company post. “Some startups are tackling components of the overall solution like sensors, maps and simulation software, while others are trying to build entire vehicles, soup-to-nuts. Another category includes the automotive OEMs who have acquired or own majority stakes in AV companies, or automotive Tier One suppliers like Bosch. Then there are the ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, who have their own initiatives in the works. And, of course, there is Google and Waymo.”
Yet he thinks Aurora has a clear competitive advantage due to its position as an independent company and the fact that it’s a full-stack provider to the AV market.
“Being a full stack provider is critical, because building and operating a self-driving car involves a complex combination of technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning, sensor technology, maps, cloud and in-vehicle computing, semiconductors, and many others,” said Volpi. “Given that all of these combined components impact each other’s performance and capabilities, the biggest value is in the creation of the integrated solution. This is what Aurora delivers.”
Based in Palo Alto, CA, and Pittsburgh, Aurora was founded in 2016 by AV industry pioneer and Chief Executive Officer Chris Urmson (formerly with Google), Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson (from Tesla), and Chief Technical Officer Drew Bagnell (Uber). They all share ties to Carnegie Mellon University. With this newest investment, Aurora will accelerate the development of the Aurora Driver and strengthen its team and ecosystem.
As the company describes it, the Aurora Driver is the hardware, software, and data services that guide vehicles powered by it safely. The solution is designed to support multiple automakers and transportation networks, its core hardware and software is engineered to be applied to different makes, models, and classes of vehicles, and to interact with dispatch systems from different providers over a common API. It conditions and distributes its own power, coordinates and synchronizes its own sensors, and communicates with the vehicle over a simple umbilical. Its controller is designed to quickly learn and continuously adapt to the dynamics of the vehicle it is controlling.
About a year ago, Aurora announced partnerships with several automakers and began building the first batch of vehicles to be powered by the Driver. In January 2018, it announced its first strategic automotive partnership with the Volkswagen Group to realize self-driving electric vehicles in cities as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) fleets. Then a month later it revealed a partnership to jointly conduct pilot deployment of Aurora’s Level 4 autonomous driving systems on the vehicles by electric-vehicle startup Byton. Over the last year, Aurora has integrated its system into five different vehicle platforms from four different OEMs.
Throughout the development process, the company emphasizes that it has maintained a separation between what is core to the Driver and what is specific to each partner. The team also establishes and executes against internal milestones that keep the team focused on the central mission such as the deployment of key software infrastructure or the design of core hardware.
What the team has accomplished to date has set in motion long-pole vehicle development activities that will ultimately run the Driver on an ecosystem built to support it. With this foundation in place and the platform requirements well understood, Aurora vehicle partners are moving compatible vehicles toward production while it further develops the Driver and prepares the communications and operational infrastructure required to deploy it.