Aurora self driving car tech startup receives injection from Hyundai

On Wednesday, Hyundai Motor Group reportedly purchased a minority stake in autonomous vehicle startup Aurora.

The automotive giant has partnered with the firm since 2018 to develop self-driving technology for its fleet. Currently, Hyundai wants to integrate Aurora’s Driver program with its NEXO hydrogen-powered compact SUVs. Though the two firms didn’t disclose terms for the buy-in, TechCrunch reports the car maker’s investment was less than $30 million.

Aurora’s Rapid Ascent

Founded in 2017, Aurora has already raised more than $700 million in three funding rounds. The firm has attracted the attention of the technology sector due to the perceived quality of its autonomous vehicle program. Notably, one of the firm’s co-founders is Chris Urmson, former head of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project.

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As opposed to companies like Tesla and Waymo, the Palo Alto, California-based company isn’t interested in building branded self-driving cars. Instead, Aurora has forged strategic partnerships with leading automakers to develop artificial intelligence (AI), lidar sensors, and other components for their vehicles.

Just a year into its life, Aurora inked development deals with Hyundai and Volkswagen to outfit their cars with self-driving tech. Since then, the startup has added Kia and Fiat Chrysler to its high profile clients list. However, Volkswagen just ended its partnership with the startup to partner with Ford to develop a different vehicle AI.

In February, Aurora received a $530 million cash injection from several high-profile tech investors, including Sequoia Capital and Amazon.

The Race to Level 5

Aurora’s current roadmap leads to the production of an autonomous solution capable of Level 4 vehicle control. The Society of Automobile Engineers classifies Level 4 systems as being able to operate mainly without driver intervention. Presently, most consumer carmakers offer Level 2 self-driving vehicles, which can only work independently for short periods.

Unfortunately, that tier of autonomous systems is notoriously unreliable. For instance, Tesla Model S sedans feature Level 2 self-driving capability via the Autopilot program. However, several Model S owners have died while allowing Autopilot to control their cars.

Additionally, Alphabet subsidiary Waymo is partnering with Lyft to test the viability of its Level 3 systems in Arizona. But even if the corporation’s trials prove successful, Level 3 vehicles still require oversight by human operators.

If Aurora can deliver Level 4 autonomy to the Hyundai NEXO, the South Korean automaker will likely have a best-selling vehicle on its hands. Furthermore, if the startup successfully develops a Level 5 self-driving car, it will become one of the most important tech corporations in history. But, if the startup can’t deliver a functioning product, it’ll become one of the more expensive flops in recent automotive history.

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