Aurora, the startup founded by former lead engineer for Google’s self-driving project Chris Urmson, is bringing its fleet of test vehicles to Texas. It’s the latest company to shift resources to the Lone Star State, which has quickly become a hotbed of autonomous vehicle testing.
Aurora says it is bringing a “small” fleet of vehicles to the Dallas-Fort Worth area within the next few weeks. The company tests out its autonomous vehicle hardware and software in both Chrysler Pacifica minivans — also popular with Urmson’s former employers at Waymo (née Google) — and Class 8 tractor trailers. Aurora says its first commercial service will be in trucking “where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best, and the level of service requirements is most accommodating.”
Trucking is “where the market is largest today”
“Whether a vehicle is moving people or goods, an investment in foundational elements like world-class perception, localization, and motion planning can’t be sidestepped,” the company said in a statement. “Our early focus on the complexities of surface street driving accelerates our ability to handle the hardest aspects of trucking. While this investment takes time on the front end, its payoff can’t be underestimated.”
The company has mostly kept its technology under wraps until very recently. Aurora newly acquired a LIDAR sensor maker, debuted its own in-house LIDAR, hired a VP of hardware, and took an investment from Amazon. It also started giving reporters and members of the media test rides in its vehicles.
To date, Aurora has raised $690 million in funding, and Urmson has been hailed as the “Henry Ford of autonomous vehicles,” thanks to his work helping to pioneer Google’s self-driving car initiative. His co-founders are Sterling Anderson, who helped lead Tesla’s Model X project, and Drew Bagnell, who ran a research lab at Carnegie Mellon then left to work on autonomous vehicles at Uber. Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai, and EV startup Byton are also Aurora customers. The company raised half a billion dollars last year in a funding round led by Amazon.
The company also has had some setbacks. Last year, Volkswagen broke with Aurora after securing a deal with Ford to collaborate on electric and autonomous vehicles.
Texas is now firmly one of the top states in the US for AV testing. In addition to Aurora, the state is also playing host to Ford / Argo, Uber, self-driving truck startup TuSimple, and Waymo, as well as a remote-operated driverless shuttle in service at Texas A&M University. AV startup Drive.ai also operated in the Dallas region before going bust and getting acquired by Apple.