Aurora, the autonomous vehicle technology startup backed by Amazon, is expanding into Texas as it aims to accelerate the development of self-driving trucks.
The company said it plans to test commercial routes in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area with a mix of Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans and Class 8 trucks. A small fleet of Pacificas will arrive first. The trucks will be on the road in Texas by the end of the year, according to the company.
Aurora's Texas office, which will staff about two dozen people, will be mostly comprised of new hires. Aurora said it's hiring for a variety of roles, including technicians, team leads, truck drivers and vehicle operators.
Aurora is developing a full-stack solution for self-driving vehicles, which it calls the "Driver." Since it launched in 2017, the startup has said its self-driving stack — the combined suite of software and hardware that provides the brains for an AV — could be applied to any vehicle. However, Aurora's partnerships and public comments in those first two years centered on robotaxis, not logistics.
That started to change last year. In October 2019, Aurora wrote a blog post prioritizing the development of autonomous trucks over cars. In recent months, the company's co-founders have talked more openly about making trucks a priority.
"While the Driver will ultimately move both people and goods, our first commercial product will be in trucking -- where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best, and the level of service requirements is most accommodating," the company wrote in a blog post Monday.
While the unit economics were a driving factor, the company says its acquisition of lidar company Blackmore and the integration of that tech in its self-driving stack has made the shift to trucks possible. Aurora has said its FirstLight Lidar gives it a crucial competitive advantage in high-speed self-driving.
Self-driving trucks was once considered a niche category within the autonomous vehicle technology industry. That has changed as companies have started to better understand the difficult unit economics of robotaxis, not to mention the complexity of operations.
Self-driving trucks have their own challenges. However, the growing consensus is that the path to profitability is clearer.