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Amazon Enters the Self-Driving Car Space with Investment in Aurora

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【Summary】Silicon Valley self-driving startup Aurora Innovation Inc. has secured an additional $530 million in its latest Series B funding round. Participating in the investment round is retail giant Amazon. The latest funding values the startup at $2.5 billion and will help Aurora to further develop its autonomous driving technology.

Eric Walz    Feb 07, 2019 1:26 PM PT
Amazon Enters the Self-Driving Car Space with Investment in Aurora
An Aurora self-driving car in California

Silicon Valley self-driving startup Aurora Innovation Inc. has secured an additional $530 million in its latest Series B funding round. Participating in the investment round is retail giant Amazon. The latest funding values the startup at $2.5 billion and will help Aurora to further develop its autonomous driving technology.

The investment from Amazon marks the e-commerce giant's first entry into the self-driving car space.

In an emailed statement, Amazon wrote, "We are always looking to invest in innovative, customer-obsessed companies, and Aurora is just that. Autonomous technology has the potential to help make the jobs of our employees and partners safer and more productive, whether it's in a fulfillment center or on the road, and we're excited about the possibilities."

The funding was led by led by Sequoia Capital as well known Silicon Valley venture capital firm, as well as Amazon and T. Rowe Price Group Inc. Carl Eschenbach, Partner at Sequoia will join Aurora's board of directors.

"Amazon's unique expertise, capabilities, and perspectives will be valuable for us as we drive towards our mission. We are also looking forward to having T. Rowe Price with us on this journey as a long-term capital partner." Aurora wrote in a blog post.

Aurora was founded by three Silicon Valley veterans who previously worked at Google, Tesla and Uber. Aurora CEO Chris Urmson was a pioneer in developing Google's first self-driving cars led Google's early self-driving car program, which has now become Waymo.

Aurora's other two co-founders are Sterling Anderson, who serves as Aurora's chief product officer, and CTO Drew Bagnell, who was a founding member of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group in Pittsburgh. Anderson previously worked for Elon Musk at Tesla and led the team that developed Tesla's "Autopilot" autonomous driving technology. Prior to that, he led the design, development, and launch of the Tesla Model X.

The company has offices in Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh.

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Aurora founders Sterling Anderson, left, Chris Urmson and Drew Bagnell (Aurora Innovation)

With its experienced team of robotics experts and $2.5 billion valuation, Aurora was able to attract top talent. The company stands out among a crowded field of self-driving startups in Silicon Valley working to commercialize self-driving vehicles. Two leaders in the field are Alphabet's Waymo and GM's Cruise, a San Francisco startup bought by the automaker for over $1 billion in 2016.

Waymo and Cruise are working to launch an autonomous robo-taxi service. Cruise is working closely with GM to outfit a fleet of Chevy Bolt EVs for autonomous driving for a commercial service. Waymo recently launched an early pilot of its Waymo One autonomous ride-hailing service in Arizona. Waymo is using a fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans outfitted with Waymo's in-house built hardware and software. Waymo and has plans to expand its robo-taxi service to other cities soon.

Instead of trying to build a self-driving vehicle, Aurora is developing a complete suite of self-driving software and hardware that can be sold to other automakers and added to a production vehicle platform. The company has deals in place with Hyundai, Volkswagen, and Chinese electric vehicle startup Byton to integrate its technology.

Aurora aims to equip vehicles with a common set of autonomous hardware and software. Each vehicle will run the same self-driving software, designed to lower costs. The software employs machine learning and will able to learn from the combined experience of all vehicles on the platform and improve over time a more autonomous miles are driven. Aurora plans to develop an entire ecosystem around its platform.

"Over the last couple of years, we've met with more than 15 of the top autonomous vehicle companies from around the world," said Sequoia's Carl Eschenbach in an interview with Bloomberg. "This is the dream team of self driving vehicles. Aurora has the best team across the industry and the best shot of being the most disruptive force going forward."

Tesla Lawsuit

Aurora's launch has not been entirely smooth.

In January 2017 a few months before Aurora launched, Tesla filed a scathing lawsuit against Aurora co-founder Sterling Anderson. The electric automaker accused Anderson of taking IP and other confidential information then destroying the evidence to cover his tracks, as well as attempting to poach a number of Tesla employees to work for Aurora.

Tesla suddenly dropped its lawsuit on April 19, 2017 withdrawing its claims, without seeking damages or attorney's fees, and without any finding any evidence wrongdoing. Aurora and Anderson agreed to pay Tesla $100,000, which is believed to be the costs associated with a future Tesla audit needed to demonstrate the integrity of Aurora's intellectual property. Neither side admitted to any wrongdoing under the terms of the settlement.

Although Urmson and his co-founders have year of collective experience working on self-driving cars at Google Tesla and Uber, Aurora is in no rush to rollout its self-driving technology. The company remains focused on safety.

"We're clear with our investors that this is a long road," he said, "and at the end of that road is incredible impact on improving safety and mobility." Urmson said.

Also participating in Aurora's latest funding round are Lightspeed Venture Partners, Geodesic, Shell Ventures and Reinvent Capital. The companies are joining previous investors Greylock and Index Ventures.

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