- Medium / Chris Urmson
It’s not particularly shocking to see a new startup pop up at this point in the lucrative race to develop self-driving-car tech.
But it is noteworthy to see one that boasts the star engineers behind Google’s and Tesla’s respective projects as its leaders.
Aurora Innovation is a new startup led by Chris Urmson, the former head of Google’s autonomous car team, and Sterling Anderson, the former director of Tesla Autopilot. Drew Bagnell, Uber’s former autonomy and perception lead, has also joined Aurora as CTO.
Aurora plans to develop the hardware, software, and data services necessary to build an autonomous driving platform – a similar approach to Uber and Waymo, the self-driving venture spun out of Google’s parent company.
The startup doesn’t plan to take on the tech giants when it comes to complex hardware like lidar, a key sensor that helps vehicles detect objects, which has become the focal point of a lawsuit between Uber and Waymo.
But it does plan to work directly with Tier 1 suppliers to design the best sensors to feed their algorithms that will create the car brain. Aurora is still in early stages, however, and is currently hiring and collecting data with an Audi Q7.
- Aurora Innovation
At first glance, Aurora seems to be taking the same tactic as most self-driving startups in Silicon Valley.
Automakers have spent millions on relatively unknown ventures as part of an effort to bulk up on artificial intelligence experts. The practice gives engineers the cash cushion to pursue their ideas while carmakers secure the talent necessary to compete with Tesla and Waymo on software.
But Anderson told Business Insider that Aurora is not another Cruise Automation, a driverless car startup snatched by GM for $581 million.
“We’re not for sale,” Anderson said. “We intend to enable the entire industry and we wouldn’t be able to do that if we were owned by a single OEM.”
Aurora plans to work directly with automakers through non-exclusive partnerships, Anderson said.
Aurora was officially formed in January and was operating in stealth mode until a Tesla lawsuit broke news of the venture’s existence. The lawsuit, which alleged Anderson had poached Tesla employees to work at Aurora, was settled in April.
The startup has $6.5 million so far to work with through self-funding and a small financing round. The company plans to launch a Series A at some point this year.
The self-driving-car space is getting crowded as more startups, like AutoX, jump into the ring to build a solution for automakers that desperately need the software talent.
“I think right now the industry is kind of prickly. I think there’s a lot of anxiety right now,” Anderson said.
Although some loose alliances have been formed, like Fiat Chrysler’s work with Waymo, several automakers are still looking to align with Silicon Valley to ramp up their internal autonomous driving efforts. Ford expressed such an interest when it named Jim Hackett, the executive that had been overseeing its self-driving-car efforts, as CEO of the entire company.
“Those who build cars will continue to build cars for a long time. I don’t see that changing,” Anderson said. “At the same time, expertise in software development and self-driving [is] one place where folks like our team are uniquely qualified.”