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Aurora CEO Chris Urmson on self-driving trucks and building trust

Q: As Aurora moves forward after a year marked by major deals, what is it looking for in partners?

A: For us, it’s important that the partners that we work with share a commitment to technology, that they’re excited to move that vision forward, and that we can create value for them and they can create value for us. That’s the key to all of these relationships, is that we’re both bringing something to the table from a position of mutual respect and an aspiration to go do something.

It matters that we get that level of alignment and compatibility at the executive level but then also at the working team level. Because if you don’t have it at both, the partnership’s not going to get where it needs to go.

Unlike some of its competitors, Aurora is working on rolling out self-driving technology in both passenger vehicles and semitrucks. Why?

We realized that the end technology is common for both. When you think about it upfront and you engineer and architect it appropriately, then you can deliver value to both of those ecosystems.

The hard part of driving is understanding the world around your vehicle and figuring out how the other actors are going to respond to what you’ll do and taking a path of action that will keep you safe and get you where you need to go. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a big truck or a little car, the core understanding is common.

At Aurora, we had that insight early on, and we thought, “How do you harness the hardware and software such that you can take advantage of that insight?” So today, we use the same software and hardware on big trucks as we do on other vehicles.

How will Aurora’s self-driving technology be rolled out?

We’ll launch our first product with trucking, something that will haul goods from one terminal to the next, something just off the freeway that will drive maybe a couple of miles it needs to get onto the freeway. Then it’ll drive a few hundred miles down the freeway, pull off and then pull into a terminal just off some set of surface roads near the freeway.

From there, we expect the same technology to transfer to passenger vehicles. Imagine applications that look a lot like that: going from, say, an airport onto the freeway, drives down the freeway and pulls off at a convention center or hotel district and delivers passengers there. That’s the right, initial application for our approach to market, and we think it’s the right approach overall.

Because we have this partnership with Uber, we’re able to support those trips without having to serve all the trips because drivers on Uber will be able to take people places that we can’t go. And then over time, as we expand the capabilities of the Aurora driver, we’ll expand the types of places that we can serve.

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