Aurora Innovation Goes All-In on Lidar With Another Acquisition
(Bloomberg) -- Aurora Innovation Inc., a Silicon Valley-based autonomous-driving startup with at least a $10 billion valuation, is going all-in on lidar.
Aurora is acquiring OURS Technology, a small lidar company founded by a team of University of California-Berkeley Ph.D.’s, for an undisclosed figure. Aurora acquired Blackmore, another lidar company, in 2019. All 12 employees at OURS, which is based in Santa Clara, California, will join Aurora.
Aurora is one of several contenders in the race to commercialize self-driving technology, along with Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo unit, Amazon.com Inc.-owned Zoox Inc. and General Motors Co.’s Cruise LLC investment. Aurora Chief Executive Officer Chris Urmson led the autonomous team at an earlier iteration of Waymo, and Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson previously directed Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot driver-assistance efforts.
Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a key technology as many of the the world’s leading automakers, tech companies and startups race to make fully autonomous cars a reality. Lidar uses lasers to build a three-dimensional image of the surrounding landscape, which is critical to how the vehicle perceives the environment, predicts the behavior of pedestrians and other vehicles, and plans how to safely navigate.
Aurora is a big fan of what’s known as FMCW, or frequency-modulated, continuous-wave lidar. Aurora’s first vehicle to market will be an autonomous truck, and FMCW lidar allows the vehicles to see further and faster, such as at highway speeds. OURS also uses FMCW technology, and the acquisition should help Aurora drive down costs and scale operations.
Earlier this month, Aurora agreed to a long-term strategic partnership with Toyota Motor Corp. and its supplier Denso Corp. in an effort to mass-produce autonomous vehicles and launch them on ride-hailing networks, including Uber Technologies Inc.’s, over the next few years.
Not everyone is on the lidar bandwagon. “Lidar is a fool’s errand,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in an oft-quoted criticism at the company’s “Autonomy Day” for investors in 2019. Tesla’s Autopilot feature relies on eight cameras and ultrasonic sensors, as well as a treasure trove of real-world miles driven by customers that acts as a feedback loop to the algorithms that are constantly training the fleet of Tesla vehicles on the road.
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