Amazon moves to invest in US start-up Aurora self-driving cars

(qlmbusinessnews.com via telegraph.co.uk – – Fri, 8th Feb 2019) London, Uk – –

Amazon has made its most significant move into driverless cars to date by investing in a company led by the former head of Google's autonomous vehicle unit.

Silicon Valley start-up Aurora said on Thursday it had raised $530m (£408m) from a group of backers including the online retail giant and fund management giant T Rowe Price.

Amazon did not reveal how much it had invested but said it could use driverless car systems in package delivery or in its warehouses.

“Autonomous technology has the potential to help make the jobs of our employees and partners safer and more productive, whether it’s in a fulfillment center or on the road, and we’re excited about the possibilities,” a spokesman said.

T Rowe Price is the second largest shareholder in Tesla behind chief executive Elon Musk and shares in the electric car company fell by more than 4pc after the news was announced. Tesla has been developing its own self-driving technology, with an Autopilot feature which can change lanes and keep its distance in traffic already installed in cars on the road. 

Aurora, which has permission to test its cars in Pittsburgh and in California, has emerged as one of the most prominent self-driving startups in Silicon Valley, in part due to the background and experience of its management team. The deal values the company at $2.5bn.

Chief executive Chris Urmson helped to develop self-driving technology at Google's self-driving car project, now known as Waymo. 

The company's chief product officer Sterling Anderson previously worked at Tesla, leading its autopilot team, and chief technology officer Drew Bagnell was originally on Uber's advanced technologies team, which works on self-driving cars.  

In April 2017 Tesla and Aurora settled a lawsuit after Mr Musk's company accused Mr Anderson of poaching Tesla employees. 

Investors in this funding round also include venture capital firm Sequoia, whose partner Carl Eschenbach will join Aurora's board of directors. 

Mr Eschenbach described the three as the “‘dream team' of self-driving cars”, and said the company's independence – it has partnerships with firms including Hyundai and Volkswagen, but  has no exclusive deals with any corporation – was also a draw. 

“They’ve positioned themselves to work with a variety of partners, from ride-sharing companies to manufacturers to suppliers—which enables them to move more quickly than any one competitor can alone,” he added. 

“This funding and partnership will accelerate our mission of delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly,” Aurora said. 

“Amazon’s unique expertise, capabilities, and perspectives will be valuable for us as we drive towards our mission.”

By Olivia Rudgard,