Aurora taking autonomous vehicle tech public via SPAC

The Robot Report

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The SPAC craze continues. Aurora Innovation, an autonomous driving technology company based in Mountain View, Calif. and Pittsburgh, is going public via a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners Y. The deal reportedly values Aurora at $11 billion.

Reinvent Technology Partners Y is a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) led by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga Inc. founder Mark Pincus. The combined company, which will be named Aurora Innovation Inc. and trade on the NASDAQ with the symbol “AUR,” is reportedly valued at $13 billion.

After the deal closes, Aurora will have raised another $1 billion from private investors involved in the SPAC. The new company will then reportedly have about $2.5 billion in cash. Existing Aurora stockholders are expected to own approximately 84% of the pro forma combined company following the close of the proposed transaction. Prior to this merger, Aurora had already raised $1.1 billion in funding, according to Crunchbase.

Aurora was founded in 2017 with a marque group of co-founders: Chris Urmson, former CTO of Google’s self-driving team, which became known as Waymo; Sterling Anderson, former head of Tesla Autopilot; Drew Bagnell, former head of Uber’s autonomy and perception team.

The company’s technology, called the Aurora Driver, is being developed as a Level 4 autonomous driving system. It was initially developed for robotaxis, but Aurora recently expanded into the autonomous trucking space. Aurora now expects to first commercialize its technology in trucking in late 2023.

“Our goal at Aurora is to make the movement of goods and people more equitable, productive, dependable, and—crucially—much safer than it is today,” said Urmson. “By combining with Reinvent and with this incredible group of investors, we are even closer to deploying self-driving vehicles and delivering the benefits this technology offers the world.”

Aurora’s string of strategic moves

Pincus said he believes Aurora will be the first to commercialize self-driving technology at scale for the U.S. trucking and passenger transportation markets. In its quest to do just that, Aurora has made a number of strategic acquisitions and partners recently.

Most notably, it acquired Uber’s self-driving division in December 2020. With the deal, Uber invested $400 million into Aurora to take a 26% stake in the combined company at the time.

Aurora has also acquired two LiDAR startups since 2019. In March 2021, it bought 5D LiDAR startup OURS Technology, which was founded in 2017 by a team from University of California-Berkeley. In May 2019, Aurora acquired Montana-based Blackmore. Both Blackmore and OURS focused on Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) LiDAR, which emits a low-power and continuous wave of light. FMCW developers tout the technology’s ability to measure distance with a higher dynamic range and instant velocity, meaning it can gauge the speed of the objects coming to or moving away from them.

Aurora recently partnered with Toyota and Denso. The companies will develop a fleet of autonomous Toyota Sienna minivans that are equipped with Aurora’s technology. The companies said a test fleet will be deployed by the end of 2021. At the time, the companies said the vehicles will then, “some time after that,” be deployed in ride-hailing fleets for Uber and other unspecified companies.

Aurora the latest autonomous vehicle SPAC

Fellow autonomous vehicle technology companies Embark, Plus and TuSimple have already or are going public, too. In June, Embark announced it is merging with SPAC Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. in a deal valued at about $5.2 billion. Plus said in May it is going public via a $3.3 billion merger with the Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. TuSimple made its debut in March 2021 in a $1.35 billion IPO on the Nasdaq stock market.

SPACs have become a hot investment mechanism for other areas of the robotics industry, too. Berkshire Grey, Sarcos Robotics, Vicarious Surgical, and a slew of LiDAR companies, have or will be going public via SPACs.

Anderson, Bagnell, and Urmson wrote the following letter to Aurora’s employees, partners, and shareholders:

“Our goal at Aurora is to make the movement of goods and people more democratic, more productive, more dependable, and — crucially — much safer than it is today. We believe we can make transportation both less expensive and more accessible, and serve communities and industries in mutually beneficial and transformative ways. The work we do, the products we deliver, and the partnerships we build at Aurora all serve our mission: to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly.

“To achieve this mission, we’re building a team aligned on the value of a business that operates with integrity, moves with urgency, and is motivated by the bold path we’re charting to solve one of the most challenging problems of our generation. We know that in a space as challenging and competitive as self-driving we will win or lose based on our ability to attract world-class talent and partners, create the environment in which we can all do our best work, and ultimately deliver our product, the Aurora Driver.

“We founded Aurora five years ago because we saw an opportunity to reboot self-driving vehicle development and start fresh on a problem engineers have been tackling in the same general way for a decade. We each bring decades of experience in self-driving to Aurora. We’ve seen the technology evolve and the opportunity come into even sharper focus. And we believed that by bringing a deeply experienced team together around a clean sheet, we could build the next generation of self-driving: one that incorporated the lessons of the past while building on the technology and business model of the future.

“Our product is designed to give our partners greater access to safe, efficient drivers, enabling them to scale their respective businesses and deliver even more value to their customers. And like others who built technologies we now take for granted (such as smartphones, computers, and even the automobile) that fundamentally transformed society while also creating immense value for their shareholders, we are fortunate to work on a problem, and to build a company where we see economic and social benefits to be deeply aligned.”

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