- Self-driving startup Aurora is going public via a merger with the SPAC Reinvent Technology Partners Y.
- Aurora CEO Chris Urmson said the deal will fund the startup until it launches its trucks in 2023.
- Urmson’s relationship with Reid Hoffman, who works with both companies, helped sell him on the deal.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Startups developing self-driving semi trucks are about to test whether public investors will be as patient as the private backers who have spent more than $20 billion on an autonomous-vehicle industry that’s earned little revenue in the past decade. Automated trucks present fewer technological challenges than robotaxis, but the sector’s top players are still years away from declaring their products ready for use without a backup driver behind the wheel.
On Thursday, Aurora Innovation became the fourth company working on self-driving semis to announce it’s going public this year. It plans to do so through a merger with the special-purpose acquisition company, or
, Reinvent Technology Partners Y that is expected to leave the combined company with a $13 billion valuation, assuming each side’s shareholders approve the deal.
Aurora CEO Chris Urmson told Insider the company researched “tens” of SPACs and spoke to fewer than 10 before deciding on Reinvent, which stood out due to the familiarity between its team, which includes Aurora board member Reid Hoffman, and Aurora’s. “There’s a deep trust there,” Urmson said.
The merger will bring Aurora around $2 billion, leaving the startup with around $2.5 billion in total, which Urmson said will be enough to fund it until its commercial launch at the end of 2023. At that point, Aurora’s technology will begin operating semi trucks without backup drivers. Aurora plans to begin putting robotaxis in service soon after.
With a public listing comes a requirement to release more information to the public, and the potential for investors who might not be as patient as VC funds or corporate parents. Urmson said there are four criteria he’ll emphasize to demonstrate Aurora’s progress: safety, technology, manufacturing partnerships, and customer relationships.
The first, safety, can be difficult to measure and convey to the public. The simplest metric is the average number of miles a vehicle travels before a backup driver or remote operator has to take over, but even that can make for inexact comparisons between companies, since some might test their vehicles in less challenging environments.
Urmson sees the safety of an automated-driving system as having three components: whether there are processes to avoid issues, how one identifies and fixes problems, and whether there are safety concerns when it’s operating as intended. Part of Aurora’s approach to safety lies in its emphasis on testing its technology through computer simulations, which Urmson said allows for larger-scale testing at a lower cost than on-road tests (though Aurora also performs on-road tests). “You can spin up 50,000 trucks in a simulator in a way you’d never be able to spin up in the real world,” Urmson said.
Urmson’s next task will be making sure Aurora’s new investors find his progress reports persuasive.
Are you a current or former Aurora employee? Do you have a news tip or opinion you’d like to share? Contact this reporter at [email protected], on Signal at 646-768-4712, or via his encrypted email address [email protected].
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