Autonomous Driving Startup Aurora Inc. to Go Public in a SPAC Deal With a $13 Billion Valuation

Autonomous Driving Startup Aurora Inc. to Go Public in a SPAC Deal With a $13 Billion Valuation

Author: Eric Walz   

Autonomous driving startup Aurora Inc. plans to go public in a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) SPAC deals with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, a company led by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus, the founder of game developer Zynga.

The transaction will value Aurora at roughly $13 billion and represents the latest high-profile SPAC deal to raise capital from investors on Wall Street.

The proposed transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2021 and is subject to customary closing conditions,including the approval of shareholders of Reinvent and the stockholders of Aurora. 

The new combined company will be named Aurora Innovation Inc., and will be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol "AUR." 

Aurora Was Co-founded by Three Industry Veterans

Aurora was founded in 2017 by three industry veterans who previously worked at Google, Tesla and Uber respectively. The company has offices in Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh.

With its experienced leadership team and robotics experts, Aurora was able to attract top talent and quickly make a name for itself in Silicon Valley and beyond for its rapid progress in autonomous driving.

"We believe Aurora will be the first to commercialize self-driving technology at scale for the U.S. trucking and passenger transportation markets based on its industry-leading team, technology and partnerships," said Mark Pincus, Co-Founder and Director of Reinvent Technology Partners Y.  

Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson was a pioneer in developing Google's first self-driving cars and led its early self-driving car program, which has now become the Alphabet division Waymo.

Aurora's other two co-founders are Sterling Anderson, who serves as Aurora's chief product officer, and CTO Drew Bagnell, who was a founding member of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group in Pittsburgh. 

Bagnell spent two decades in the field as an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He was recruited by Uber in 2016 along with dozens of other scientists and researchers from the school's world renowned robotics program as the ride-hailing company tried to jumpstart its own work on self-driving vehicles under its Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG)

It was Aurora that purchased Uber's Advanced Technologies Group and assets in Pittsburgh for $4 billion in Dec 2020 after Uber abandoned its own self-driving vehicle plans. However, Uber retains 26% stake in Aurora. Uber also invested $400 million in Aurora and its Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi took a seat on Aurora's board. 

Anderson previously worked for Elon Musk at Tesla and led the team that developed Tesla's "Autopilot" autonomous driving feature. Prior to that, Anderson led the design, development, and launch of the Tesla Model X.

Aurora is developing a complete suite of self-driving software and hardware that can be sold to other automakers or added to a production vehicle platform. Each vehicle will run the same self-driving software, designed to lower costs. The software employs AI and machine learning and can learn from the combined experience of all vehicles on the platform and improve over time as more autonomous miles are driven.

The company stands out among a crowded field of self-driving technology developers that are racing to be the first to commercialize self-driving technology for both passenger vehicles, commercial robotaxis and Class-8 trucks. 


Aurora Inc co-founders Sterling Anderson, left, Chris Urmson and Drew Bagnell.

Aurora's Growing List of Industry Partners

In February, Aurora announced a partnership with Toyota to add autonomous driving capabilities to its future models, beginning with the popular Toyota Sienna minivan. 

A month later in March, Aurora announced it will partner with the Volvo Group to accelerate the commercialization of autonomous Class 8 trucks for highway long-haul freight delivery in North America. As part of the partnership, Aurora's autonomous driving software stack called the "Aurora Driver" will be added to trucks from Volvo.

The Aurora Driver is a complete hardware and software platform that includes sensors, processors, cameras, GPS, and mapping data. 

Like its rival Waymo, Aurora also develops proprietary hardware for autonomous driving, including lidar. 

Last summer, Aurora announced its new in-house developed lidar sensor called "FirstLight" for its autonomous vehicles. The lidar sensor can detect and track objects more quickly and from further away than other lidar sensors on the market, the company claims.

Aurora says that its FirstLight lidar will allow its self-driving vehicle perception systems to see and track objects that are faster moving and farther away with greater precision than many of the standard lidar systems available today.

Aurora expects to launch its technology first for the $700 billion commercial trucking market in late 2023. From there, the company will leverage its self-driving capabilities in trucking to rapidly expand into other markets, including autonomous last-mile delivery and ride-hailing.

In addition to its automotive partners, Aurora is backed by Sequoia Capital, Baillie Gifford, as well as funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates. The startup is also backed by e-commerce giant Amazon.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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