These Execs Left Google and Tesla to Build Their Own Autonomous Cars

Former Tesla engineer Sterling Anderson was almost sued by Tesla when he left to join Aurora. Now, the startup is teaming up with Hyundai and VW to get ahead of the game.
Jessica Miley

Fledgling startup Aurora has announced it will work with both Hyundai and Volkswagen to develop driverless car technology. Hyundai and VW are late to the driverless car party but this new alliance with Aurora instantly catapults them into competitive territory with Tesla and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo project. Both carmakers have confirmed the deal in separate media releases. Aurora CEO Chris Urmson says the company was looking for global manufacturing partners in order to achieve their mission of delivering self-driving technology quickly, safely and broadly. Aurora is formed by three huge names from the industry: Chris Urmson, the former director of Alphabet Inc’s car project Waymo is joined by Sterling Anderson, the former head of Tesla’s Autopilot program and Drew Bagnell an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and a founding member of Uber Technologies Inc.’s Advanced Technologies Center. The all-star executive team describes Aurora on its website saying, “Aurora works at the intersection of rigorous engineering and applied machine learning to address one of the most challenging, important and interesting opportunities of our generation: transforming the way people and goods move.” Tesla attempted to sue Anderson in January 2017 for breach of contract when he joined Aurora but later dropped the lawsuit in April. Anderson is Aurora’s Chief of Product. 


Aurora aggressively hiring ahead of big developments

The team is based in Pittsburgh, home of Bagnell’s other workplace, Carnegie Mellon. The company is reportedly home to more than 70 employees and according to the Aurora website, the startup is still hiring. The company is clear about its intentions. Describing its values its says, "We debate and solve hard technical problems. We don’t waste time battling over personalities and egos and we have no tolerance for time-wasters and nonsense." The group is expected to work with Hyundai and Volkswagen on developing driverless technology for taxi services and robotic deliveries. Volkswagen recently committed more than 34 billion euros over five years to develop electric and autonomous vehicle technology. In the past, it had taken the route of other major German automotive manufacturers and focussed on internal Research and development rather than pursuing outside collaboration. This partnership with Aurora marks a new shift for the company that could pay off and sees it hurtle ahead of its European competitors. Aurora will work with VW on adding driverless technology to their existing product lines. 

Moia will go head to head with Waymo

The main area of focus will be to develop cars for Moia, Volkswagen's electric ride-hailing network. Aurora has reportedly already been testing its self-driving systems with the Audi Q7 model. Director of Hyundai’s Advanced Driver Assistance System Development Group, Woongjun Jang has told media that Aurora and Hyundai plan to co-develop a self-driving electric car that runs on fuel cells. More details about the SUV vehicle are expected to be unveiled at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. The finished product is hoped to be on the market by 2021 Jang said. The collaboration will no doubt put some fear into the major players of the driverless car field.

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