Starting autonomous driving Dawn announced on Tuesday that it has partnered with Toyota to build autonomous driving Toyota Sienna minivan based taxis. Aurora says he aims to have a fleet of Sienna prototypes ready to be tested on public roads by the end of the year. Denso, a major Japanese auto parts maker, will also contribute to the project.
This is a significant victory for Aurora, which has struggled to understand its business model in a rapidly changing industry. Aurora’s plan a few years ago was to provide autonomous driving software and sensors to incumbent automakers. The company had a partnership with Volkswagen that was supposed to lead to the integration of Aurora technology into Volkswagen vehicles, with plans to launch an autonomous taxi service. But the two companies separate ways in 2019, calling into question Aurora’s strategy. Aurora did sign an investment agreement with Hyundai around the same time, but they have said little about that relationship since then.
Later in 2019, Aurora turned to long-haul trucking as the first application of its autonomous driving technology. Some see trucking as an attractive market for a stand-alone startup because highways are a relatively easy environment for software to understand. Last month Aurora announced a partnership with the truck manufacturer PACCAR to build autonomous semi-trailers.
In December, Aurora seized the opportunity to get back into the taxi business by purchase Uber’s standalone tech division struggling. In addition to divesting its autonomous assets and staff, Uber has invested $ 400 million in Aurora.
Aurora argues that these relationships – with Toyota, Denso and Uber – make Aurora ideally positioned to become a player in the self-driving taxi industry. Aurora can work with Toyota and Denso to design and build autonomous vehicles, then offer rides through the Uber network. If these initial partnerships go well, Aurora may be able to entice other automakers and ridesharing networks to join the Aurora platform.
At least that’s the theory.
The fundamental question is whether Aurora can make its autonomous driving technology work. Aurora is widely respected for the quality of its engineers. But Aurora got off to a relatively late start, and its technology has yet to receive as much public scrutiny as industry leaders like Waymo (owned by Alphabet) and Cruise (owned by GM and Honda). Not much is known about the performance and safety of Aurora’s autonomous driving sensors and software, which could still be years away from commercial launch.
And while a large network of partners helps in theory, it can also make it harder to get a product to market. Aurora has yet to explain how she plans to operate her taxi service. For example, we don’t know if the cars will be owned by Toyota, Aurora, Uber, or third party fleet managers to be loaded on board at a later date.
Most of Aurora’s competitors combine several functions under one roof. Waymo, for example, uses cars provided by partners like FCA and Jaguar. But the other major functions – technological development, fleet ownership and carpooling network – are managed internally by Waymo. Cruise is owned directly by GM and Honda, allowing Cruise engineers to work closely with their auto manufacturer counterparts. Like Waymo, Cruise is expected to own its cars and operate its own transportation system.
Even with these benefits, industry leaders like Waymo and Cruise have struggled to market their products – or in Waymo’s case, expand them beyond a corner of the Phoenix metro area. Aurora’s challenge is to demonstrate that she can succeed where her biggest rivals have struggled.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.
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