The key, of course, is the experience of those three co-founders; Urmson is the former boss of Google’s autonomous driving division, Sterling Anderson previously worked at Tesla and Drew Bagnell was Uber’s autonomous vehicle leader.
So while Aurora was only founded a year earlier, it’s run by some of the pioneers of self-driving vehicles. Canadian Urmson has been working on autonomous technology since his time as a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). His work on a NASA robot led to the opportunity to develop an autonomous car for the DARPA Challenge event in 2004. In 2007, CMU’s self-driving Chevrolet Tahoe won the DARPA Urban Challenge.
Urmson then spent more than seven years working on the technology for Google, before deciding that he needed a new challenge. But the time at CMU and Google helped turn Urmson, now 41, into a key figurehead in the self-driving world.
“When I left Google, it made the national news,” he said, adding: “That was bizarre.”
And, after a few months, he helped establish Aurora.
During his time at Google, Urmson met Johann ‘JJ’ Jungwirth, VW’s chief digital officer at CES. Jungwirth said: “I took a ride in Google’s self-driving Toyota Prius.
"I’ve seen the progress Chris made with Google’s team and systems. When it was clear his decision was to establish Aurora Innovation and make the best self-driving system in the world and work in a friendly way with OEMs, we talked again.”
VW and Aurora have been working together for around a year and, in the past six months, begun integrating Aurora’s self-driving system – including sensors, hardware and software – into VW Group platforms. Urmson described Aurora’s opportunity to work with VW as “profound".
“Building an affordable ecosystem that enables VW to be as successful as they have been is a difficult business, and it takes a set of processes and a mindset," Urmson said. "It’s a very different thing to what you see in Silicon Valley, when the most complex product is a smartphone that takes six to nine months to develop."
It’s that ability of tech firms to be more agile and responsive that has attracted VW, Hyundai and now Byton to Aurora.
Fellow Aurora founder Anderson added: “We felt when we started Aurora that if we pulled together an experienced team that understands every facet of autonomous vehicles, we could combine it with the strengths a company such as Volkswagen has in terms of development and production and move more quickly than we could separately.”