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Autonomous FreightAutonomous VehiclesNewsTechnologyTop Stories

Aurora applying robot truck lessons to robotaxis that once led driverless parade

Self-driving cars were supposed to be first but now are getting lessons from trucks

Before autonomous startups decided to field autonomous trucks before driverless cars, passenger vehicles had an edge in attention and investment. Now it is the lessons learned from robotic trucks that are being applied to Aurora Innovation’s ride-hailing robotaxis.

Aurora (NASDAQ: AUR) is one of two competitors in autonomous truck development that started with autonomous car projects. The other is Alphabet subsidiary Waymo and its trucking offshoot Waymo Via, which evolved from the original Google self-driving car project that began in 2009. The Google self-driving project became Waymo in 2016.

The 2019 acquisition of lidar makers Blackmore and First Light gave Aurora the confidence to get serious about autonomous trucking. Aurora went public via SPAC last year and said it would offer a commercial “driver out” version of a Peterbilt Model 579 equipped with the Aurora Driver software by late 2023.

Others, including industry leader TuSimple Holdings (NASDAQ: TSP), are targeting 2024. TuSimple last month conducted a driverless pilot called GhostRider on an 80-mile nighttime run in Arizona from Tucson to Phoenix.


Watch now: First U.S. highway pilot of autonomous truck without a safety driver


Aurora is running human driver-supervised trucking pilots in collaboration with Peterbilt parent Paccar Inc. and FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) between Houston and Palmer, Texas, south of Dallas, on Interstate 45. It plans to scale both autonomous trucking and a ride-hailing business with Toyota Sienna minivans. Toyota (NYSE: TM) and Paccar (NASDAQ: PCAR) are investors in Aurora.

Expanse and maturity

The path to commercialization starts with Aurora Driver 2.0, the computer brain that takes on the challenges of highways and surface streets — and eventually dense urban driving scenarios. Aurora Driver 2.0 uses the same hardware, software, infrastructure and development tools to operate a Class 8 truck and a passenger sedan.

Aurora plans beta releases of its updates quarterly over the next year. It applies two words — expanse and maturity — to its progress. 

Expanse represents the breadth of capabilities and domains in which the Aurora Driver can operate. Maturity describes the degree of readiness of those capabilities for commercial deployment, evolving from development to validation to completion. 

Four views of Aurora Innovation’s supervised self-driving truck’s high-definition mapping. The “green carpet,” as Aurora calls it, is the path the truck follows on Interstate 45 between Houston and south of Dallas in Palmer, Texas. (Image: Aurora Innovation)

Pulling over on its own

In Q3, Aurora expects to show that the Aurora Driver can respond to system failures at highway speeds by safely pulling over to the shoulder without a safety driver intervening. That is a key tenant of the Aurora Driver’s progress toward satisfying the fail-safe core claim of its safety case framework.

“The Aurora Driver is an incredible solution to transportation challenges that impact goods shortages and road safety. We are taking a responsible, commercially focused approach to deliver the Aurora Driver, and I expect our progress over the next several quarters to demonstrate this as we advance toward commercialization,” Chris Urmson, Aurora CEO and co-founder, said in a press release.

“Looking out a decade from now, we see tremendous opportunity for the Aurora Driver with the potential for hundreds of thousands of safe and efficient Aurora Driver-powered trucks and cars to be operating across a variety of use cases,” Urmson said. “We have a clear and measured path to get there and we’re excited to share our progress with the world.”

Aurora, Paccar and FedEx team up to test autonomous trucks in Texas

Aurora deepens Uber relationships with autonomous freight partnership

Aurora closes in on production version of self-driving truck technology

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes FedEx (No. 1).

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is a Detroit-based award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press and most recently as Detroit Bureau Chief for Trucks.com. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.