Amazon the popular online retail giant that dominates many western markets, will now lend its “unique expertise, capabilities, and perspective” to Aurora a start-up focused solely on self-driving vehicle technology which has secured over US$530 million in Series B funding.
The investors include the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, Amazon and T. Rowe Price Group. This $530 million infusion into a self-driving start-up would translate to new job opportunities in Pittsburgh. “A big part of this is building the team in Pittsburgh,” said Khobi Brooklyn, an Aurora spokeswoman. “Pittsburgh is our headquarters. And we’re very excited that we have the ability to grow and add people to our team, and that means people from Pittsburgh.”
Aurora was co-founded in 2016 by Chris Urmson, who was, from 2009 to 2006, in charge of Google’s self-driving car project, which later became Waymo.
The other two co-founders are Sterling Anderson, the ex-program lead for the Tesla Model X and later the company’s Autopilot assisted driving suite, and Drew Bagnell, former associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute who worked on Uber’s self-driving car development team.
Aurora is focused on developing what it calls a “full stack” software package that The Verge says will act as a template for self-driving cars. The company plans to enable car makers to use this sort of drop-in system to guide their own vehicles without the expense of doing their own R&D.
Amazon officials said Friday they are always looking for their next investment opportunity, and that Aurora was a good fit. “We are always looking to invest in innovative, customer-obsessed companies, and Aurora is just that,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an email to the Tribune-Review. “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 centre or on the road, and we’re excited about the possibilities.”
Carl Eschenbach, a partner at Sequoia Capital, agreed adding, “We’re excited by the speed of innovation in which Aurora is developing its technology and growing the company. We see this partnership as an opportunity to support an amazing team building innovative technology and leading the next radical transformation of transportation.”
It was actually DARPA that challenged teams of engineers to design vehicles that could drive themselves with no human interaction through the Nevada desert in the early part of this century. One of those teams was the Google spinoff Waymo which is now offering rides in autonomous minivans to people in the Phoenix area.
Two of the principal members of that team— the mercurial, break every rule Anthony Levandowski and the patient, steady Chris Urmson clashed repeatedly at Waymo. Urmson along with two other superstars of the autonomous tech world — Sterling Anderson, and Drew Bagnelli, co-founded Aurora Innovation.
Amazon also recently announced its Scout program- experiment with small electric autonomous delivery vehicles. Late last month, CNBC reported it is using self-driving tractor trailers equipped with self-driving technology from Embark to haul cargo on California’s I-10 highway.