In the early decades of the 20th century, automobility at scale ushered in new patterns of living and a new era of broad-based prosperity in America. For some time now, I’ve believed autonomous vehicles can do the same. So when the opportunity arose last year for Greylock to co-lead the $90 million Series A round in Aurora with Index Ventures, I jumped at the chance.
While the autonomous vehicle industry is still in its infancy, Aurora’s three founders had already established themselves as giants in the field, with each playing key roles at three leading pioneers in the version 1.0 era of autonomous vehicle technology. Chris Urmson, Aurora’s CEO, led the self-driving car team at Alphabet for seven years. Drew Bagnell, Aurora’s CTO, led perception and overall autonomy architecture for Uber’s self-driving vehicle effort. And Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s CPO, led the team at Tesla that delivered Autopilot.
Together, they joined forces to pursue a straightforward but massively important mission: Deliver the benefits of fully autonomous vehicle technology safely, quickly, and broadly. Their goal is to develop Aurora Driver, a full-stack self-driving software system that it will make available to a wide range of OEMs.
The progress Aurora has made in the year since its Series A announcement has been astounding. So much so that the company just announced a major Series B round last week, with $530 million in new investment. Sequoia Capital is leading the round, and Greylock, Index, T. Rowe Price, Amazon, and others are participating as well.
Every epic road trip needs a full tank of gas at the start, and with this latest round of funding, Aurora has that. As Forbes.com pointed out, while Aurora won’t be building physical vehicles like many of its competitors in this space, it’s still “among the best-funded players working to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.”
That means it has more resources to devote to where it can really add transformative value — designing and testing the software systems that can lead to Level 4 autonomy and higher, and building out all facets of its company as its technology matures. With this new round of funding, Aurora will be able to continue hiring the world-class talent that has put it at the forefront in the Version 2.0 era of autonomous vehicle development.
But as TechCrunch observed, it’s not just the size of this “monster round” that’s notable, but the quality of the investors that the round attracted.
Sequoia’s participation with its largest investment yet in the autonomous vehicle space is confirmation of how Aurora has emerged as the marquee player in just two years since its 2017 founding. T. Rowe Price brings “savvy about macro trends” and long-term thinking. Amazon brings its legendary logistics expertise and focus on delivering great customer experiences.
In the end, it’s the people along for the ride who make a road trip truly memorable. As Aurora scales up to pursue a technology that is likely to play a huge role in how people live and work in the 21st century, it continues to attract great investors with long-term outlooks, key OEMs like Volkswagen and Hyundai, and world-class engineering and operations talent.
And at the helm of it all is Chris Urmson, who has a great vision for how he wants to navigate the uncharted territory that lies ahead for Aurora. While world-class engineering talent is needed to solve all the challenges that autonomous vehicle technology poses, Chris knows that proceeding in a way that also incorporates the highest levels of judiciousness, ethics, and integrity are key to an effort with such transformational impact. Thus, Chris is committed to building breakthrough technologies with the right people, who along with their their engineering, operational, and other talents bring a human-first mindset to their work.
I can’t wait to see where he takes Aurora next.