Autonomous vehicle company Aurora has shown images of an autonomous Toyota Sienna that it said has been designed specifically for ride-hailing operation.
The company posted a blog detailing the vehicle, which is based on the Toyota (NYSE:TM) Sienna Autono-MaaS (S-AM) mass-produced prototype. The S-AM is Toyota’s hybrid-electric powertrain. Aurora said tests will be conducted over the next six months and that “we’ll mature this initial development fleet in Pittsburgh, Dallas, the Bay Area and additional locations.”
“We believe the best and fastest way to build a purpose-driven design is through a constant feedback loop with vehicle platform partners and networks. Thanks to our close partnership with Uber, the Aurora-powered Toyota S-AM benefits from the broad ride-hailing experience that accelerates our path to commercialization,” the company wrote.
In July, Aurora laid out its ride-hailing vision, which includes a 10-year agreement with Uber to access data. The vision includes not only the vehicles but also developing tools to optimize fleet positioning, including pickup and drop-off zones.
The Toyota S-AM features the Aurora Driver system, which incorporates hardware, software, infrastructure and development tools to create a self-driving vehicle. The Aurora Driver system has been designed to work for both commercial trucks and automobiles.
“As we progress through our development program with Toyota, we’ll expand testing of this prototype, refine it through pilots, validate it in accordance with our Safety Case Framework and Toyota’s own safety standards, and expect to launch it on ride-hailing networks at scale,” Aurora said.
Aurora said the cars will feature dynamic temperature controls that allow riders to set their preferred in-vehicle temperature through the ride-hailing app so the car arrives for pickup at the correct temperature.
Aurora believes that a hybrid ride-hailing network of both human-driven and autonomous rides could bring trip costs to as little as $1 per mile.
In December 2020, Aurora purchased Uber ATG (NYSE: UBER), the company’s autonomous driving unit. In exchange, Uber agreed to invest $400 million in Aurora for a 26% equity stake. Aurora was already working on building self-driving trucks.
In July, special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Reinvent Technology Partners Y announced it would take Aurora public in a deal that valued the self-driving company at $10.6 billion. Global truck makers PACCAR (NASDAQ: PCAR) and Volvo Group are among the investors. Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) is also a backer of Aurora.
The Reinvent SPAC (NASDAQ: RTPY) includes $977.5 million that Reinvent raised in an initial public offering to create the shell company that will become Aurora Innovation Inc., a $1 billion private investment in public equity (PIPE) and about $600 million cash on Aurora’s books.
Aurora is expected to receive about $2.5 billion when the business combination closes in the second half of this year.
Following Lyft’s footsteps
The announcement from Aurora comes almost two months to the day after Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) announced it would start testing autonomous vehicles on its rideshare network by the end of this year.
The agreement calls for Argo and Ford (NYSE: F) to deploy self-driving cars with safety drivers on the Lyft network. Lyft users in the operational areas of the vehicles will be able to choose a Ford self-driving vehicle if available. The initial deployments will be used to work through operational issues as the three companies finalize an agreement that will place more than 1,000 autonomous vehicles into Lyft’s network over the next five years.
Argo AI designs self-driving technology and has been testing its technology in Washington, Miami and Austin, Texas. The company is based in Pittsburgh. Ford will own the vehicles and Argo will supply the drivers.
The Lyft and Argo deal is similar in nature to the Aurora-Uber agreement. Lyft and Argo will collaborate on data sharing, including market and safety data, to define where self-driving technology makes the most sense for the consumer. Additionally, Argo will use anonymized service and fleet data from Lyft to help it overcome challenges that it said other autonomous vehicle companies face when building a sustainable business.
As part of the deal, Lyft will receive 2.5% of the common equity of Argo AI as part of a licensing and data access agreement.
Lyft has already conducted more than 100,000 paid AV rides since 2018, Green previously said. The company has been working with Motional, an Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture, on an AV project, and it expects to deploy fully autonomous Motional vehicles in several cities by 2023.