Watch Now

PACCAR and Aurora to build autonomous trucks

Also: Aurora closes Uber ATG deal

(Photo credit: Aurora)

Fresh from its takeover of Uber ATG in December, autonomous vehicle company Aurora has signed an agreement with heavy-duty truck manufacturer PACCAR (NASDAQ: PCAR) to commercialize autonomous Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks. 

This collaboration, the latest in the series of deals between self-driving vehicle technology companies and OEMs, will integrate the Aurora Driver and PACCAR’s autonomous vehicle platform, which the truck maker has been quietly developing over the past few years.

Under the terms of the agreement, announced on Tuesday, PACCAR will sell the trucks to Aurora, sources at Aurora and PACCAR told FreightWaves.

Although the business model is not entirely clear, customers will be able to order Peterbilt 579 and Kenworth T680 trucks utilizing the Aurora Driver sometime in the next few years, they said.

“The trucks will be sold through our dealer network but the commercialization model, that still needs to be figured out,” Ken Hastings, head of PACCAR Investor Relations, told FreightWaves.

In the meantime, he said, “we’re focused on getting the technology working that will increase safety and operational efficiency for our customers.”

Also on Tuesday, Aurora announced that the Uber ATG deal had officially closed, meaning Uber’s ATG employees now work for Aurora, which now claims 1,600 people across eight locations. 

In addition to its existing offices, Aurora will expand to Seattle, Louiseville, Colorado, and Wixom, Michigan. 

Young, aggressive and focused on trucks

Founded in 2016, Aurora is a relatively new but aggressive player in the fiercely competitive world of self-driving big rigs. The company said last spring that it would prioritize the development of semi-trailer trucks over that of cars, its original focus. 

The latest partnership builds on PACCAR’s history with Aurora, which is currently testing autonomous Class 8 trucks from Peterbilt Motors as well as Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Texas, the San Francisco Bay area and Pittsburgh.

“Many of our test vehicles today are built on PACCAR’s truck,” Sterling Anderson, Aurora chief product officer and co-founder, said in a blog post announcing the partnership.

“Our industry-leading sensor suite is unique in its ability to safely operate them, and our vehicle-agnostic Driver was developed to quickly and seamlessly adapt to them,” Anderson wrote. “Finally, the flexible ecosystem we’re developing will allow shippers and carriers to seamlessly integrate these trucks into their existing operations.”

Building on that history, the new partnership will bring the engineering teams together around an accelerated development program to create fully driverless trucks, starting with the Peterbilt 579 and the Kenworth T680.

The agreement also includes the commercialization project and vehicle validation at the PACCAR Technical Center and production support in PACCAR factories.

A next-generation autonomous truck

Offering up more details, Hastings said the vehicles currently equipped with Aurora Driver are demonstration trucks that lack the necessary safety redundancies.

In addition to duplicate steering and braking systems, the next-generation vehicles will feature a PACCAR-created software platform designed to integrate with the Aurora Driver.

“This partnership will take each party’s technology to the next level for the purpose of developing trucks that can be sold in the market,” Hastings explained.

Collaborations accelerate

With this latest partnership, PACCAR also joins most of the major trucking manufacturers in inking deals with autonomous vehicle startups. 

TuSimple in October signed a deal with Navistar (NYSE: NAV) to become the OEM’s preferred self-driving tech supplier, with a goal of getting a Level 4 autonomous truck on the market by 2024. Daimler in October partnered with Waymo on a Level 4 model, following up on its acquisition of Torc Robotics, with which it is also testing autonomous trucks.

And late last year, announced mass production of its Level 3 trucks would start in China in 2021, in partnership with FAW Jiefang, China’s largest truck manufacturer. 

In that pantheon, PACCAR “likes where we stand,” Hastings commented. “With Aurora, we have a leader if not the leader in truck autonomy.” 

With a leading OEM as a partner and a major acquisition under its belt, Aurora appears equally satisfied.

“With PACCAR, Uber and the relationships we continue to build and strengthen,” wrote CEO Chris Urmson in a LinkedIn post Monday, “we have the momentum, power, and clarity to realize our mission, and build the technology and products the world needs to make transportation and logistics safer and more accessible.”

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected].