Autonomous driving startup Aurora announced on Tuesday that it has scored a partnership with Toyota to build self-driving taxis based on the Toyota Sienna minivan. Aurora says it's aiming to have a fleet of Sienna prototypes ready for testing on public roads by the end of the year. Denso, a major Japanese auto parts manufacturer, will also contribute to the project. This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED's parent company, Condé Nast.
Building a self-driving car was never going to be easy. But Karl Iagnemma says he didn't expect it to be this hard. "Vehicles are these massively complex systems, and to [build self-driving cars], we need to integrate them with another very complex system and do it in a way that's reliable and cost-optimized. It's really, really hard," says Iagnemma, the president and CEO of a joint venture formed in March between South Korea's Hyundai and self-driving startup Aptiv. "I think that's one of the things that most players in the industry underappreciated, myself included."
In the race to start the world's first driving business without human drivers, everyone is chasing Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo. The Google sibling has cleared the way to beat its nearest rivals, General Motors Co. and a couple of other players, by at least a year to introduce driverless cars to the public. A deal reached in January to buy thousands of additional Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which get kitted out with sensors that can see hundreds of yards in any direction, puts Waymo's lead into stark relief. No other company is offering for-hire rides yet, let alone preparing to carry passengers in more than one city this year. GM plans to start a ride-hailing service with its Chevrolet Bolt--the one with no steering wheel or pedals, the ultimate goal in autonomous technology--late next year, assuming the U.S. government has protocols in place by then. SoftBank Vision Fund, the gigantic Japanese tech investor, backed that plan on May 31 by dropping $2.25 billion into GM Cruise Holdings, the automaker's autonomous drive unit. Most of the others trying solve the last remaining self-driving puzzles are more cautious, targeting 2020 or later. The road to autonomy is long and exceedingly complicated. It can also be dangerous: Two high-profile efforts, from Uber Technologies Inc. and Tesla Inc., were involved in crashes that caused the death of a pedestrian (in the first known case of a person killed by a self-driving vehicle) and a driver using an assistance program touted as a precursor to autonomy. One of Waymo's autonomous vans was involved in a collision just last week.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says his company wants to be the "Amazon for transportation." Friday, Amazon made clear that it intends to be the Amazon for transportation. The ecommerce giant said it had agreed to acquire Bay Area-based autonomous vehicle company Zoox, a deal reportedly worth more than $1 billion. Since its founding in 2014, Zoox has been known for its technical chops, its secretiveness, and its sky-high ambition. While Waymo is focusing on self-driving tech and leaving the car building to places like Detroit, Zoox has stuck to its plan to design a robotaxi from the ground up--and operate a ride-hail service.