Today, Aurora and Reinvent Technology Partners Y announced their agreement to merge. In my own view, this is awesome news — because I’ve been an investor in Aurora since February 2018 when I co-led its Series A round for Greylock and joined Aurora’s board.
At this point, it’s well understood that creating AV technology is an extremely challenging undertaking – especially when, as with Aurora, the goal is not just to put one or two prototype vehicles on the road, but rather to develop safe, robustly tested, and truly road-ready technology with the capacity to scale quickly. It’s a process that requires significant internal resources and a strong ecosystem of trusted partners.
Meanwhile, market pioneers in blitzscale-up mode are exactly the kind of company Reivent aims to serve with its “venture capital at scale” strategy. This deal represents one of the largest public capital raises to date, giving Aurora the resources I believe it needs to keep building out its team, enhancing its technology, and completing the ambitious path to market it has mapped out and is successfully executing against.
This deal has been an unusual experience for me. I recused myself from both sides, because I am an investor in Aurora and a member of the Aurora board, and I am also a co-sponsor of Reinvent and an investor in Reinvent Capital (which has an investment in Aurora). At the end of the deal discussions, I was offered a chance to invest again in Aurora through the PIPE, which I quickly signed up for. For the same reasons that I co-led the Series A for Greylock and co-invested with Reinvent Capital, I’m a strong believer in Aurora’s accelerating path to create the best, safest autonomous drivers for trucks and cars.
The Road to AV
I’ve been engaged in the AV tech space closely since 2015, when I first wrote about the potential of AV technology to make human mobility safer, more sustainable, and more efficient. And when I later learned that Aurora was forming, I knew it was a company I wanted to invest in. Its three co-founders already had deep experience in the nascent AV space, with each of them playing key roles at early leaders in the field. Chris Urmson, Aurora’s CEO, had co-founded and led Google’s self-driving program, now known as Waymo. Drew Bagnell, Aurora’s CTO, had played a key role in Uber’s initial autonomous vehicle efforts and also ran a robotics-oriented research lab at Carnegie Mellon for more than a decade before that. Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s CPO, had led Tesla’s Model X program to its launch in 2015, then led the team that delivered Autopilot.
Together, they knew virtually everything there was to know about building autonomous vehicles at that point. And with Aurora, they had an opportunity to apply their learnings synergistically, with a surer sense of the terrain they were tackling and a deeper understanding of the strategies and resources they would need to navigate it successfully. In a sense, each brought their learnings to build the next generation of safe autonomy from a new blank slate.
Since then, they’ve come a long way in a short time. The Virtual Testing Suite that Aurora has developed allows it to simulate the on-road equivalent of over 20 million miles every day. This approach enables them to experience and thus learn from scenarios and driving conditions that would take a large on-road fleet decades to experience. This accelerates their ability to better understand and solve for long-tail events like navigating construction zones and debris in the road.
Aurora has also formed key strategic partners with some of the world’s biggest and most established transportation companies. Toyota, for example, is the biggest passenger-car manufacturer in the world. Paccar and Volvo account for nearly 50% of the class 8 trucks sold in the U.S. Uber is the world’s largest ride-hailing network. Aside from their market size, partnering with manufacturers that have been in business for almost a century suggests how much broad and deep diligence has been done on Aurora’s team and technology, and how much trust these iconic companies harbor for Aurora’s AV vision.
Similarly, Aurora has made multiple strategic acquisitions over the last several years. TechCrunch called its acquisition of Uber’s ATG unit the biggest AV story of 2020. Acquiring it has given Aurora the chance to incorporate its most innovative hardware technologies into its own hardware kit. In addition, assimilating ATG’s world-class safety team has allowed Aurora to launch a Safety Advisory Board, an updated Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment (VSSA) report, and a Safety Management System.
Other key acquisitions include Blackmore and OURS, which allow Aurora to incorporate best-in-class technology at an accelerated pace. With Blackmore, Aurora has purpose-built an in-house lidar sensor, branded as FirstLight Lidar, which is capable of detecting both the precise location and velocity of other vehicles, giving the Aurora Driver system a distinct advantage when traveling at highway speed. With OURS, Aurora will be able to put FirstLight Lidar on a silicon chip, which will make it even cheaper, more reliable, and powerful.
Between its world-class development team, its industry partnerships, and its acquisitions, Aurora is on track to deliver its first commercial product and service — Driver-as-a-Service — in 2023. Aurora is also now conducting tests of its system in Texas for use in the trucking industry, and anticipates announcing commercial pilots with large shippers/carriers by the end of this year.
At this point, we’re more than a decade into serious commercial efforts to build AV technology. Because the technical challenges are so compelling and the potential economic rewards are so great, the AV space has attracted some of the greatest talent on the planet. There are many companies working to establish themselves as the long-term leaders of this space.
But after numerous conversations I had with Chris Urmson in the years prior to Greylock’s original Series A investment in 2018, I had quickly recognized how valuable his combination of technical prowess, leadership skills, and overall passion for autonomous vehicles and the positive impact it could have on the world made him special. If anyone could be Henry Ford 2.0, the person who could develop this new technology and make it work on a mass-market level, it was him. That’s why I invested in Aurora in 2018 — and since then, my belief in the company’s vision and execution has only grown stronger. I’m excited about the merger between Reinvent and Aurora, and thrilled for the opportunity to invest again in Aurora on a personal level through the PIPE.