Amazon moves into driverless cars with investment in USA start-up Aurora

Aurora Innovation's Lincoln test vehicle

Enlarge ImageA Lincoln outfitted with Aurora Innovation's self-driving hardware navigates a tunnel. Aurora Innovation

Now, Amazon is one of several backers in a $530 million funding round announced Thursday for Aurora, which is based in Palo Alto but maintains a big presence in Pittsburgh.

Sequoia led the Series B round of investment.

Aurora is among dozens of startups, automakers and large technology companies working on self-driving auto systems, eager to capitalize on a sea change in the transportation industry brought by developments in machine learning. Aurora raised $90 million in a funding round past year.

In a statement, Amazon said autonomous vehicles could help its employees: "We are always looking to invest in innovative, customer-obsessed companies, and Aurora is just that". Eschenbach will take a seat on the startup's board.

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Aurora Innovation is developing a full self-driving program from soup to nuts, including hardware, software and data-collection and -distribution tech. Yet it's Amazon's new financial interest in this company that's likely to spark the most interest: There have been murmurs that the e-commerce giant is interested in everything from self-driving delivery vehicles to new-car retailing, but the company has thus far remained low-profile in its movements.

Aurora's three co-founders are legendary within the tight community of roboticists and engineers who are leading the charge to make self-driving cars a reality. It has partnerships with Byton, Hyundai Motor Co and Volkswagen to develop and test self-driving systems that one day, Urmson said, can be used by a broad range of automakers, fleet owners and other transportation industry players. After dipping its toe in the robotic vehicle arena with Scout, an autonomous delivery robot, and collaboration with Embark, a self-driving truck startup, Amazon definitely seems interested in where the field is headed.

Back in 2017, the reported that Amazon had a team looking into ways to move all those Amazon products and packages in driverless cars.

For Aurora's Urmson, who has been working on the technology for more than a decade, this isn't a race: "We're clear with our investors that this is a long road", he said, "and at the end of that road is incredible impact on improving safety and mobility".

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