Amazon Wednesday made perhaps its most significant move yet into the self-driving car space, announcing an investment in autonomous tech developer Aurora. For a company with one of the largest logistics operations on the planet, it’s about time.
“Autonomous technology has the potential to help make the jobs of our employees and partners safer and more productive, whether it’s in a fulfillment center or on the road, and we’re excited about the possibilities,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. Amazon and Aurora declined to disclose the terms of the investment.
The investment is part of Aurora’s $530 million Series B funding round, which was led by venture firm Sequoia Capital. Sequoia partner Carl Eschenbach is joining Aurora’s board. Developing self-driving tech is an expensive proposition, and Aurora CEO Chris Urmson says the money will go to building its engineering team, along with things like its PR, HR, and operations teams.
The WIRED Guide to Self-Driving Cars
Amazon has previously dabbled in this space. It was a partner on Toyota’s e-Palette concept project. It pitches its Amazon Web Services unit as a tool for autonomous vehicle developers, and hosts an autonomous racing league for 1/18th scale race cars. In 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported the company had formed a small team focused on driverless tech, and CNBC reported last month that it’s working with robo-trucking startup Embark to move some goods on the I-10 freeway. Amazon is developing robots to schlep groceries and food deliveries.
If Amazon is looking for a partner to help it move more seriously into the robo-car space, Aurora is a logical bet. It’s led by a trio of industry bigwigs: Urmson was a founding member of Google’s self-driving project (now called Waymo) and its technical lead until 2016. Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson led Tesla’s Autopilot effort. CTO Drew Bagnell helped launch Uber’s AV efforts. The company, which has offices in Palo Alto and Pittsburgh, is one of the few outfits that isn’t owned by or beholden to a much larger corporation. It has struck up partnerships with Volkswagen, Hyundai, and electric car startup Byton, but has no exclusive deals. “We see ourselves as the independent option in this space,” Urmson says.
Plus, Urmson says his company isn’t dedicating itself to any one incarnation of autonomy. If Amazon’s interested in robo-trucks, or cars, or some sort of pod thingy, Aurora might well oblige—and help the Everything Store move its wares into the world.
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