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Hyundai, VW lean on top-tier talent for self-driving cars

Chris Urmson's Aurora will help both automakers chart a path toward Level 4 autonomy.


Many self-driving-car developers are content to go it alone, or nearly so, but teamwork is an equally viable way to get to Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy. To that end, Hyundai and Volkswagen have both announced separate partnerships... with the same company.

Hyundai and Volkswagen announced separately today that both companies are forming strategic partnerships with Aurora. Aurora is a company focused on self-driving technology, and its CEO is one Chris Urmson, a former autonomous whiz kid at Google.

Aurora's in the business of developing a self-driving platform -- that is to say, all the hardware and software required for Level 4 vehicle autonomy, but not the cars themselves.  SAE Level 4 autonomy is mode-specific autonomy, meaning the vehicle is capable of both driving the vehicle and acting as its own failsafe within certain parameters, whether it's a geofence or a mode switch in the vehicle. Humans will still be able to control them if they want or need to.

This might be the first time you've heard of Aurora, but it won't be the last.


On the Korean side, Aurora's system will get incorporated into custom-developed Hyundai models to be used in pilot programs in various cities (Hyundai didn't specify where). Volkswagen and Aurora have already been working together for about six months, integrating Aurora's system into VW's vehicles.

Both Hyundai and VW will work with Aurora on self-driving systems with commercialization as the end goal. Volkswagen did not offer specific timelines, but Hyundai wants this partnership to bear fruit by 2021.

Aurora's other founders include Sterling Anderson, a former director of Tesla's Autopilot program, and Drew Bagnell, a former autonomy lead from Uber. It's quite the star-studded lineup, as far as autonomous programs go, so it will be interesting to see how Aurora's platform pans out with both automakers over the next decade, as nearly every automaker in the world makes a hard push toward cars that are capable of driving without human intervention.