On Feb. 11, about a month after closing on the acquisition of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, or ATG, the self-driving-car startup Aurora held an all-hands meeting. Like every other company meeting since the pandemic began, it took place via video-conference, and included the simulacra of in- person office interactions. When managers handed out awards, there was no applause from co-workers. Instead, Aurora co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Chris Urmson hit a button that produced canned cheers and clapping. “I am so looking forward to not having that button,” Urmson said after setting it off for the third time.
The weeks leading up to the meeting had been full of upheaval at Aurora Innovation Inc. Uber Technologies Inc. had essentially paid it to take ATG, forking over $400 million for a stake in the combined enterprise, which was valued at $10 billion. The deal allows Uber to unload a unit that was hemorrhaging cash while keeping a foothold in autonomous vehicles. Aurora, in return, adds almost 1,000 employees, more than doubling its workforce to 1,600 and bolstering its bid to become a credible competitor to Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo. The deal also gives Aurora what could be a bigger prize: the right to provide robo-taxis to Uber’s ride-hailing network.
“Having a strategic relationship with Uber is an incredible advantage,” Urmson says. Over the past two decades he’s done more than perhaps anyone to push the development of autonomous-driving technology. Now he’s in a leading position to be the first to truly commercialize it. But with the addition of hundreds of highly paid engineers and a large pool of potential customers, Urmson is under more pressure than ever to bring a product to market.
Since co-founding the company in January 2017— with former Tesla engineer Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell, who came from ATG—Urmson has been lining up deals to ensure that buyers will be waiting when his robot drivers are ready. The plan is to begin with long-haul trucking. Earlier this year, Paccar Inc. and Volvo Group signed agreements to install Aurora’s automated driving system in their trucks. The two companies would then offer these trucks, capable of operating themselves for long stretches, to their shipping customers, who would pay Aurora for the hours of automated driving.
After establishing itself in trucking, Aurora would begin cherry-picking the easiest, most lucrative trips from Uber’s ride-hailing network. A customer looking to go 25 miles, mostly by highway in light traffic, might be greeted by a driverless car. Aurora already has a deal with Toyota Motor Corp. to build robo-taxi fleets.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The RV business is booming and shows no sign of slowing down. To find out why, our correspondent dragged his reluctant family to the RV capital of the world— the cutest city in north central Indiana!—and hit the road
The Fortnite Fallout
Apple and Epic meet in court, making the collapse of a once-close relationship complete
Yes, Streaming Ads Are on Repeat
Commercials on services like Hulu, Pluto, and Discovery+ have become an $11 billion business
Facebook Won't Apologize for Instagram Youth
It’s making a kid-focused version of its photo-sharing app, regardless of what critics say
Laggard Doesn't (Always) Mean Loser
At least a few companies still in the vaccine race will likely succeed as Covid lingers
Why Don't More Women Run Money?
The gender imbalance in portfolio management persists even as some women take top fund jobs
COME AT ME
When a gossip rag went after Jeff Bezos, he retaliated with the brutal, brilliant efficiency he used to build his business empire. From the new book Amazon Unbound , an untold story of money, sex, and power
More Merchants Are Courting Cash
Surcharges for credit card purchases become common as businesses try to avoid swipe fees
Covid Means There's Even Less Joy in Mudville
Capacity constraints and distancing rules bring big headaches for season ticket holders
Justin Zhu was fired for taking LSD before an important meeting. The whole situation was even weirder