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Volvo partners with Aurora for hub-to-hub autonomous trucking

Aurora continues to bulk up as Volvo chooses it for self-driving trucks

Volvo Group has chosen Aurora as its primary technology partner for autonomous trucking. (Photo: Aurora)

Volvo Group (OTC: VLVLY) will partner with Aurora Innovation OpCo Inc. for hub-to-hub autonomous trucks in North America, aligning with the same startup working with rival PACCAR  Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR).

The Swedish truck maker is the last major manufacturer to pick a technology partner for autonomous operations. Volvo and Aurora quietly worked on a software system beginning in early 2018. They created a prototype truck late that year.

“Despite our early progress, our shared values and our common goal, both Volvo and Aurora had work to do before we could field a serious product in high-speed trucking,” Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s co-founder and chief product officer, wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

“Aurora’s sensor suite, like the rest of the industry, could not robustly see far enough to safely drive a Class 8 truck at highway speeds. And Volvo needed to lay the groundwork for an autonomous solutions business.”

Volvo’s moves

The creation of the Volvo Autonomous Solutions group in December 2019 prepared the way for Tuesday’s announcement. Former finance executive Nils Jaeger leads the unit. He reports to Volvo Group CEO Martin Lundstedt.

Among Jaeger’s first tasks was helping complete the $2.3 billion sale of Volvo’s UD Trucks unit to Isuzu Motors. UD Trucks demonstrated a Level 4 truck maneuvering on a sugar plantation in Japan’s Hokkaido Province in August 2019.

Volvo announced in June 2019 a partnership with Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA) to work on artificial intelligence for autonomous trucks in Sweden and California.

Trucks as a service model

The first commercial product using Aurora Driver software will be tailored to autonomous hub-to-hub use in North America. Trucks will be driven by a human to a freeway on-ramp, then switch to autonomous mode until the prescribed exit where a human driver would retake control.

The trucks will combine Volvo’s technology with the Aurora Driver, which can detect and track objects beyond 300 meters. Aurora began testing its systems on a Peterbilt Model 579 last July in Texas.

Volvo envisions a trucking-as-a-services offering. It would include transport logistics to operational support, servicing and maintenance, and internet cloud support for dispatching and routing.

“Creating a viable autonomous on-highway offering requires close partnerships with both customers and tech partners to develop the needed capabilities,” Jaeger said in a press release.

“Aurora is already a leading force in autonomous systems, and its integrated self-driving stack, software, hardware and data services platform combine to offer a clear path towards efficient and safe on-highway solutions in the medium term.”

No timing was announced for when the self-driving trucks would be on the road.

Aurora’s plate gets fuller

Aurora’s plate continues to fill with projects. It acquired Uber’s troubled self-driving Advanced Technologies Group in December 2020. The PACCAR deal was announced in January. 

Aurora acquired light detecting and ranging radar (LiDAR) company Blackmore in 2019, developing a multimodal sensing suite capable of safely operating large trucks at highway speeds.  

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) joined with capital venture firm Sequoia and T. Rowe Price (NASDAQ: TROW) in February 2019 to invest $530 million in Aurora.

PACCAR and Aurora to build autonomous trucks

Uber hands over autonomous driving unit to Aurora

Aurora adds Class 8 autonomous testing in Texas

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.