A secretive self-driving car startup is building a fleet of robot taxis with Volkswagen and Hyundai

AuroraAurora co-founder CEO Chris Urmson
  • Aurora is a highly watched startup by three well-known self-driving car veterans from Google, Tesla, and Uber.
  • It is only about a year old but it’s already announcing two giant auto-makers as customers: Volkswagen and Hyundai.
  • They will be using Aurora’s tech to build fleets of robot taxis.

It’s only been a year since news broke about a new secretive, self-driving car startup called Aurora and the startup is already announcing two giant auto-maker as customers: Volkswagen and Hyundai.

Aurora has been a much-watched startup because it was founded by three of Silicon Valley’s most famous self-driving engineers: former Google self-driving car project head Chris Urmson; the former head of Tesla Autopilot, Sterling Anderson; and former Uber self-driving star engineer Drew Bagnell. The year-old company was even named by venture investors as one of the 50 startups that will boom in 2018.

But the company has been relatively quiet about its plans until this week. Now, Aurora is coming out of stealth to announce that it is working with Volkswagen and Hyundai to build each of these companies a fleet of robot taxis, which it refers to as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS).

Hyundai autonomous Ioniq model vehicleAuroraHyundai autonomous Ioniq model vehicle

Volkswagen and Aurora have been working together for six months, and MaaS is “phase 1,” Urmson told Business Insider.

Later, the self-driving tech will find its way into VW vehicles, with the auto company planning to “[roll] out that self-driving system across the [VW] brands and various vehicles from trucks to shuttles.”

Urmson wouldn’t share the timeline for when these cars will be available. However, Volkswagen says it intends to bring a wide variety of autonomous driving functions to its cars by 2021.

Aurora is also working with Hyundai to build self-driving cars by 2021. It is aiming for “Level 4 automation” which is when a car can completely drive itself under a limited set of conditions, like at a slower speed or in a defined area.

Like Volkswagen, mobility-as-a-service is Hyundai’s first step towards a broader strategy, too.

No disruption

Aurora’s angle is that it’s nicer to the car makers than other self-driving specialists. Urmson isn’t trying to disrupt car makers and he doesn’t want to build his own car, Urmson said.

Even so, it has already had a scuffle with Tesla. Just a few months after it launched, Tesla sued Aurora and Andersen claiming he was poaching employees from Tesla.

Sterling AndersonAuroraAurora co-founder and chief product officer Sterling Anderson

The two settled the suit when Aurora agreed to undergo an audit proving Aurora isn’t using any of Tesla’s intellectual property.

Otherwise, Anderson indicates that he and his cofounders are relishing the opportunity to work on self-driving cars, a field that the three are passionate about.

It helps to be a startup comprised of engineers that have known of each other for years, and have been working on robotic technology since their college days.

“We’ve been developing these systems for over a decade,” Anderson said. “Since long before it was ever trendy.”

Urmson adds. “We aren’t three guys who dropped out of a graduate program to do a startup. This was about bringing together the right team to do this the right way for the industry.”

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