Startup Aurora gets $530 million boost to build self-driving cars

Aurora Innovation Lincoln test cars

Much of the funding support Aurora Innovation has received is based on its executive leadership, all of whom have experience/expertise at other self-driving companies. Sterling Anderson, Aurora's chief product officer, previously led Tesla Inc.'s Autopilot team, which developed driver-assistance technology for the electric-car maker.

Amazon has made its most significant move into driverless cars to date by investing in a company led by the former head of Google's autonomous vehicle unit. While Volkswagen plans to integrate the self-driving technology in its vehicles, Hyundai wants to commercialize level 4 autonomous vehicles (which can operate without human input or oversight under select conditions) by 2021.

Aurora's three founders are legendary within the tight community of roboticists and engineers who are leading the charge to make self-driving cars a reality. Drew Bagnell, the chief technology officer, was a founding member of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group. Investments past year from the SoftBank Vision Fund and Honda Motor Co. pushed Cruise's valuation to $14.6 billion.

The funding round was led by venture capital firm Sequoia, whose partner Carl Eschenbach will join Aurora's board. Sequoia Capital and T.Rowe Price were also major investors during the investment round, altogether signaling a vote of confidence in the self-driving competition now underway that Amazon apparently doesn't intend to miss out on.

Aurora isn't just another self-driving tech company. The latter is seen not only as a linchpin when it comes to safety, but also to the monetization potential of future self-driving vehicles, be they conventional passenger cars, commercial vehicles or last-mile delivery robots. Yet it's Amazon's new financial interest in this company that's likely to spark the most interest: There have been murmurs that the e-commerce giant is interested in everything from self-driving delivery vehicles to new-car retailing, but the company has thus far remained low-profile in its movements. The case eventually settled and Aurora paid Tesla $100,000.

Amazon did not reveal how much it had invested but said it could use driverless auto systems in package delivery or in its warehouses.

A number of companies are investing in autonomous driving technology including Apple and Alphabet.

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