Robot car startup Aurora navigates its way to Texas for testing

Autonomous-vehicle specialist Aurora is taking its technology to Texas for testing.

The Silicon Valley-based startup said that in the next few weeks folks in and around Fort Worth can expect to see a small fleet of Aurora vehicles trundling along public roads.

In a blog post announcing its arrival in the Lone Star State, Aurora said it plans to test its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Minivans, as well as its huge self-driving Class 8 trucks, on commercial routes that sit at the center of popular delivery corridors.

The company said that while its long-term focus will be on using its self-driving vehicles to move both people and goods, its first commercial product will be in trucking “where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best, and the level of service requirements is most accommodating.”

Aurora has already been testing its technology in California and Pennsylvania, but said it is expanding to Texas because the state is a hotbed of commercial trucking, with the freight moved on its highways forecast to nearly double in the next 25 years.

The company also pointed to the state’s “open regulatory environment and pro-business policies” that is said to make it an attractive place to operate, a situation that has served to attract other autonomous-vehicle companies to the area, such as Waymo, Ford, and Drive.ai.

Aurora was founded in 2016 by former contributors to self-driving-car projects operated by Google (now Waymo) and Uber, among others.

It has attracted plenty of interest, too, with Amazon last year participating in a $530 million funding round for the company ahead of the e-commerce giant’s acquisition of Zoox, another autonomous-vehicle startup.

Aurora also inked a deal with South Korean automaker Hyundai in 2018 to build self-driving prototypes based on its eco-friendly Nexo vehicle and signed a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2019 that led to the use of its minivans with a view to launching a variety of commercial services for moving goods and people. It also partnered with Volkswagen in 2018 to help build its technology into the German automaker’s vehicles, though the collaboration ended last year when the contract finished.

Silicon Valley tech firms and established automakers have been forming closer ties in recent years as doing so gives the latter access to groundbreaking technology without having to invest huge sums in building their own research and development programs for autonomous vehicles. Meanwhile, the tech firms can receive financial support to develop their equipment through continued research and testing.

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