What happens when former employees of Google, Tesla, and Uber get together? They found Aurora, an autonomous car startup that is now being courted by Volkswagen and Hyundai. The two automakers and the tech company have come together with the goal of putting autonomous vehicles on the road in three years “quickly, broadly, and safely.”
As part of the agreement, Aurora will develop the sensors for both automakers that use the company’s artificial intelligence in an effort to produce millions of cars every year. Hyundai expects to have self-driving cars available by 2021, and Volkswagen sees autonomous vehicles as part of the “reinvention of mobility” in the coming years.
Aurora certainly has a leg up on the business. The company founders each led previous AV efforts. CEO Chris Urmson was the CTO at Alphabet, Chief Technical Officer Drew Bagnell helped found Uber’s Advanced Technology Center, and Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson directed Tesla’s Autopilot program.
Aurora’s goal is to develop “fully self-driving pods, shuttles or delivery vans as well as self-driving trucks without a cabin…” Urmson said.
The goal of creating both public and private transportation tracks side by side is intentional. According to Volkswagen Chief Digital Officer Johann Jungwirth: “In the future, we anticipate that people will be able to use our mobility app or digital virtual assistant to hail a self-driving electric vehicle to drive them conveniently door-to-door, or use our Volkswagen OneButton which has GPS, connectivity and a compass, as a small beautiful key fob with maximum convenience…”
The automakers’ main goal in this cooperative effort is to leapfrog ahead in their current autonomous research, getting well beyond the need to have a “driver” monitoring the vehicle at all times, especially on streets and highways. The goal is at least Level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineer’s chart, a level which describes vehicles that not only steer, brake and accelerate properly but also respond to other conditions, even when the driver fails to do so.
It’s one thing to develop the technology, but these companies will also have to generate consumer buy-in. Right now, fully automated vehicles feel a bit too much like science fiction to too many people. They don’t yet trust that vehicles can have this much sophistication in their controls. That perception will have to change if the automakers want to have a receptive audience when the time comes to put their vehicles on the market. As of now, that winning narrative is on the clock.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.