Aurora, the startup that was founded by the former head of Google’s autonomous car project, officially went public on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the ticker symbol “AUR.” It’s a major milestone for the AV industry, which has struggled with exaggerated expectations, missed deadlines, closed deals, and a host of technology challenges.
Last summer, Aurora announced that it would go public through a reverse merger with a special acquisition company, or SPAC, called Reinvent Technology Partners Y. In closing this deal, Aurora said it has $ 1.8 billion in “gross revenue and cash in hand “. which will aid in your quest to become a provider of autonomous driving hardware and software for companies in the trucking and transportation industries.
“This is an exciting time,” said Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of Aurora, at an event to celebrate the company’s public listing. “It is such an exciting milestone for Aurora for our partners, our customers, our investors and the entire industry. We are working to launch an amazing product on trucks. We are building an amazing passenger vehicle tracking product. And we will continue to build a long line of products as a broad one grows in the coming decades. “
Despite the spate of SPAC deals between companies crossing transportation and technology in the past year, Aurora is the first autonomous vehicle to go public by merging with a company called a “blank check.” But it probably won’t be the last, with other AV startups. Argo AI reportedly in talks to go public with a SPAC merger.
Still, it is a move that carries a lot of risk for Aurora and its founders. The company says it expects to lose money until 2027, and the next few years will incur the biggest losses as it prepares to launch its autonomous trucking and transportation businesses on a large scale. Aurora has said that it wants to sell its hardware and software package to other companies, rather than operate fleets of vehicles itself.
Founded in 2017, Aurora executives have deep and diverse experience with autonomous vehicles. Urmson, who led Google’s autonomous car project before it spun off as Waymo, started plotting Aurora in 2016.
He eventually recruited Sterling Anderson, who was the head of Tesla’s autopilot team until supposedly resigned over disagreements on Elon Musk’s push to announce that the company’s cars would be capable of “driving themselves.” Urmson also chose Drew Bagnell, a freelance engineer at Uber after the tech company stole him from Carnegie Mellon (as part of a much larger foray by the university’s much-acclaimed robotics division), as the third co-founder.
Since then, Aurora has been developing the hardware and software necessary to enable vehicles to drive themselves – a suite of technologies it calls the Aurora Driver. The startup already has agreements with companies such as Uber, Toyota and Volvo to use Aurora Driver. Aurora also bought the entire autonomous driving division of Uber late last year.
Aurora expects its business to advance in two tracks: autonomous trucks, available in 2023; and autonomous passenger vehicles in 2024. Both products will be available to customers through a subscription service.
Aurora lost $ 214 million in 2020 (of which $ 179 million went to research and development), and that cash burn has only accelerated since then, as the startup lost $ 189 million in the first quarter of 2021 alone ( with $ 159 million spent on R&D in the fourth).
Several electric vehicle startups, such as Faraday Future and Lucid Motors, have also gone public through SPAC, as well as a handful of air taxi companies. (The founders of Reinvent, Aurora’s SPAC partner, also have an agreement to merge with Joby Aviation, a California air taxi startup.)
Not all SPAC offers have gone well. Companies like Lordstown Motors, Canoo, Nikola, Velodyne and others have faced federal investigations, business disruptions and internal battles after going public.
But Aurora seems to be well positioned to weather the storm, thanks to a deep pool of talent and experience. However, the company has presented itself to investors that such expensive technology is worth investing money in, because the startup believes that the autonomous vehicle industry will be dominated by very few players.
“We will build on our expertise, our mission and our values to deliver life-saving technology that will make transportation more reliable,” said Urmson, “and we will leave the Aurora mark on the roads of the world.”