Aurora Plots Robotaxi Service With High-Tech Toyota Minivans

Toyota is currently preparing 12 modified Sienna minivans to be used in Aurora’s test fleet.

Aurora is an autonomic technology company planning to list shares for public sale. It has started accepting modifications to Toyota Sienna minivans for a pilot program to create the basis for a robotic taxi service commercially available it hopes to offer within the U.S. with Toyota and Uber in 2024.

Its Toyota S-AM vans–short for Sienna “Autono-MaaS”–will be utilized as a part of an experimental program lasting six months. Aurora will run in cities such as Pittsburgh and Dallas and in the San Francisco Bay Area to improve the software, sensors, and software that it is developing. A dozen minivans with hybrid electric technology are expected to be included in the testing phase. They will come seven months after Aurora made public its plans to partner with its investor Toyota and parts manufacturer Denso, a Toyota affiliate, to create a future of robotaxis.

“We’re combing the vast experience of Toyota’s engineering as well as research teams, with our knowledge in developing a safe autonomous system to provide an enjoyable, comfortable and safe riding experience,” Aurora said in an article on the blog. “Now we’re merging our Driver with Toyota’s firstS-AM vehicles that are fresh off their production line.”

Aurora is trying to catch up with rivals like Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise, Argo AI (which is supported by Ford and Volkswagen), and Amazon’s Zoox in turning robotaxis on demand into a business-generating service in the coming years. Aurora is also the latest developer of autonomous technology to consider the less-appreciated minivan as the possible engine of the future fleets of on-demand rides.

Waymo manages hundreds of Pacifica Hybrid minivans in suburban Phoenix; Cruise showed off a futuristic vehicle at the beginning of 2020 and is now preparing to go into production. Argo is in the process of deploying the electric Volkswagen ID.BUZZ vans as part of the German roboticaxi pilot program. Zoox’s tiny robotaxi prototype, which is boxily featuring inward-facing seats to accommodate four people and large doors it’s essentially an adaptation of a van.

Zoox’s electric robotaxi is just one of a variety of van-type cars that are in the process of being developed for autonomous ride services.

The Sienna vans are constructed by Toyota’s Princeton, Indiana. The plant lidar, cameras, and radars for the S-AMs are located within the automobile maker’s North American engineering center near Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aurora integrates its driver computing system and software in the Pittsburgh facility.

Aurora intends to rely on its partner Uber for information about the most suitable cities as the testing progresses. It can launch a robotaxi service, the most convenient trips, and the most optimal places to pick up and drop off. Before launching its robotaxi program, Aurora has said it will start a business-generating robotic truck by 2023.

Aurora was founded in the hands of Chris Urmson, former head of Google’s self-driving vehicle project, and former Tesla Autopilot’s director Sterling Anderson and computer scientist Drew Bagnell, a past participant in Uber’s autonomous vehicle program. Aurora is merging with blank check business Reinvent Technology Partners Y, created in the year 2000 by Silicon Valley investors Reid Hoffman, Mark Pincus, and Michael Thompson. The company believes the move will generate approximately $2 billion to be competitive with Waymo, Cruise, Argo, and Zoox. The company will be listed on Nasdaq in the coming months with its ticker “AUR.”

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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