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Progress toward commercializing self-driving technology: Aurora’s 2021 milestones

Recap | November 02, 2021 | 4 min. read

By the Aurora Team

It has been quite a year at Aurora! We kicked off 2021 by welcoming the Uber ATG team and, since then, we’ve kept up the pace with new partnerships, product developments, tech advancements, and more. We often talk about building a generational business—one that fundamentally transforms how goods and people move through the world—and we've made incredible progress toward delivering on this vision.

In 2021 alone, we’ve partnered with one of the largest transportation and logistics companies in the world with FedEx, the number one ride hailing platform on the planet with Uber, the number one global vehicle OEM with Toyota, and two of the top three North American OEM's in trucking with Volvo and PACCAR. Alongside these partners, we plan to launch our autonomous commercial trucking business, Aurora Horizon, by late 2023, followed by our driverless ride-hailing business, Aurora Connect, in 2024.

In reflecting on this year and our path to commercial AV deployment, our recent milestones define the critical steps for delivering self-driving products at scale:

Depth and breadth of expertise: Welcoming Uber ATG to Aurora

At close to 1,600 people, we have an industry-leading self-driving team with nearly 200 Ph.Ds and over 1,100 pending and issued patents worldwide. Building on this expertise, in January, we welcomed Uber ATG’s team and technology, integrating their expertise in engineering, safety, ride-sharing, and more into our long-term vision, value, and plans for autonomous vehicle deployment. 

Industry-first collaboration: Hauling commercial goods with FedEx and PACCAR

We showed how the Aurora Driver can be seamlessly integrated into freight operations via an industry-first collaboration with FedEx and PACCAR. Through this pilot, Aurora-powered PACCAR trucks are regularly and autonomously hauling FedEx loads in Texas between Dallas and Houston—a 500-mile round trip. We believe this collaboration demonstrates the value of self-driving technology as the economy faces a supply chain crisis, making the need for dynamic logistics solutions more important than ever.

Autonomous trucking in 2023: Building Volvo’s first-ever commercial autonomous truck for the U.S. market

After partnering with Volvo in March, we developed the trucking leader’s first-ever prototype truck for autonomous commercial freight operations in North America—the Aurora-powered Volvo VNL. As Volvo’s flagship long-haul model, and the first vehicle in Volvo’s fleet to be designed from the ground up to operate with the Aurora Driver, this represents a significant step toward building and deploying autonomous commercial L4 Class 8 trucks at scale for Volvo Autonomous Solutions customers in North America. With productive partnerships with key trucking leaders underway, we are already delivering value to two of the top three truck manufacturers in the United States.

Autonomous ride-hailing in 2024: Developing the Aurora Driver-powered Toyota Sienna

Just months after announcing a long-term, strategic partnership with Toyota, we unveiled the Aurora-powered Toyota Sienna—a custom-built vehicle designed specifically for autonomous ride-hailing. Benefiting from Toyota’s position as the global leader in vehicle manufacturing and our relationship with Uber, the world’s top ride-hailing platform, the Aurora-powered Toyota Sienna is already being tested and validated for planned commercial deployment in 2024. 

Path to profitability: Aurora Horizon and Aurora Connect product subscription services 

Showing how self-driving systems are not only developed but how they will be commercialized, we introduced application-specific product suites that leverage our Driver-as-a-Service business model to integrate into customers’ businesses and grow their operations. Aurora Horizon, which is already on the road in Texas via our Aurora Driver Beta, is intended to provide freight carriers and private fleets with reliable, scalable self-driving technology powered by the Aurora Driver alongside powerful tools to integrate autonomous vehicles into existing operations. Aurora Connect is designed to enable Aurora-powered vehicles to integrate with ride-hailing networks and transport passengers safely and comfortably. We plan to support both services with Aurora Beacon, the mission control system that will facilitate dispatching, routing, monitoring of vehicle health, and incident response, as well as Aurora Shield, which will provide roadside assistance that maximizes uptime of vehicles equipped with the Aurora Driver.  

Next-generation hardware: Unlocking commercialization of self-driving tech

We introduced our next-generation hardware kit, which debuted in commercial pilots this year and laid the foundation for our trucking and ride-hailing services. This new technology fuses our hardware with Uber ATG’s into a single, optimized, deeply integrated system—combining cutting-edge camera, radar, and lidar sensors with a new powerhouse computer to create a feature-complete, safer, and more reliable driver. 

Accelerating work with partners: Implementing the Aurora Driver Development Program

On the heels of announcing partnerships with Volvo, PACCAR, Toyota, and more, we shared the Aurora Driver Development Program—the structured approach for the creation of Aurora-powered vehicles. Refined in collaboration with half a dozen OEMs and through the integration of the Aurora Driver into eight distinct vehicle platforms, this process details how we build, refine, pilot, validate, launch, and scale deployment of self-driving technology. 

Faster, safer autonomous vehicle development: Rapidly scaling simulation work

While simulation has always been at the core of development of the Aurora Driver, this year saw these efforts expand at a massive scale. Not only did we welcome a team of simulation experts from Colrspace to Aurora, we expect to have driven the equivalent of over 9 billion simulated miles by the end of the year—6 billion of these in 2021 alone. As we continue to scale up our Virtual Testing Suite, we’ll continue running millions of daily tests to rapidly add capabilities to the Aurora Driver. 

Robust approach to safety: Publishing the self-driving industry’s only public Safety Case Framework

We have made safety a core part of our mission since day one and this year we shared the self-driving industry’s first-ever Safety Case Framework to address both autonomous trucking and passenger mobility. This framework, which is the only one published by a currently operating self-driving company, is an imperative component for any business planning to deliver commercial-ready autonomous vehicles at scale by operating on public roads without a safety driver. The Safety Case Framework builds on our robust safety playbook, which includes a Safety Management System that governs organizational safety practices, a Safety Advisory Board composed of established experts from safety-critical industries, and our 2021 Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment.

Tangible technical progress: Demonstrating the Aurora Driver on Texas highways

With Aurora-powered trucks already hauling goods on Texas highways, we invited guests to our Palmer, Texas terminal to experience self-driving technology first-hand with autonomous rides in self-driving Peterbilt 579 trucks on a stretch of Interstate 45—which is driven by more than 8,500 conventional trucks per day. We also highlighted how foundational investments in engineering, machine learning, and artificial intelligence have accelerated and strengthened progress in hardware, perception, simulations, mapping, forecasting, and data—helping to enable commercial deployment of our autonomous vehicles at scale. 

These milestones each represent keystone moments on the path toward deployment of autonomous vehicles at scale for freight and passenger mobility. But we’re not done yet! As we continue this momentum, we will share updates as we work towards a transportation system that’s more accessible, more reliable, and ultimately, safer than ever before. 

the Aurora Team

Delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly.