Volkswagen and Hyundai Motor Co. said last week that they are collaborating with Silicon Valley self-driving startup Aurora Innovation to develop fleets of self-driving electric taxis in major cities.
Self-driving startup teams with VW, Hyundai
Aurora CEO Chris Urmson, the former chief technical officer of Google's autonomous car project that developed the Firefly prototype, started Aurora in 2016 alongside former Tesla designer Sterling Anderson and robotics expert Drew Bagnell.
Volkswagen's collaboration with the Palo Alto, Calif., startup began six months ago, with specialists from both companies working to integrate Aurora's self-driving system — including sensors, hardware and software — into products such as Sedric, Volkswagen's early-stage concept car introduced in Geneva last March.
"As the self-driving system matures, we will integrate this system across Volkswagen Group brands and on different product categories including fully self-driving pods, shuttles or delivery vans and self-driving trucks without a cabin," Urmson wrote in a blog post.
Andreas Brozat, a spokesman for Volkswagen, said that while the duration of the partnership has not yet been determined, its existence proves a commitment to getting autonomous vehicles on the road as quickly and as safety as possible.
"In the past, the engine was the heart of the car," Brozat said. But now, safety systems will be the main selling point for self-driving vehicles, he said.
While the partnership's focus is the technical readiness of the integration, Brozat said Volkswagen's next steps will be product implementation on a wider scale.
Hyundai's deal with Aurora will start with custom-developed models launched in pilot cities.
Long term, the partnership with Hyundai aims to commercialize autonomous vehicles for the brand. Hyundai also plans to use the partnership to launch Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021. These cars, operational without human input or oversight under select conditions, are one stage below the industry-designated standard of fully autonomous vehicles.
Hyundai launched its autonomous efforts in 2015, testing vehicles in rural parts of Nevada. The South Korean company's latest fuel cell vehicle, debuting at the CES technology conference in Las Vegas this week, will be the first to undergo test processes in this collaboration, starting this year.
"The fuel-cell powertrain will offer an ideal platform to implement autonomous driving technologies, which requires a massive amount of power to support the large amount of data communication as well as the operation of hardware such as sensors," the company said in a statement. "Hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles will be able to provide a stable electric power supply without concerns about driving range."
Other tech and mobility companies, such as Lyft and NuTonomy, announced similar plans to operate autonomous taxi companies in the next few years.
Anderson, chief product officer for Aurora, said the company sees mobility services as the best entry point for self-driving systems.
"Many of the social goods of self-driving are realized through mobility-as-a-service type models," he said. "It's a much larger market, and there's a much greater need for it."
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