UPDATED 16:26 EST / JULY 15 2021


Amazon-backed autonomous vehicle startup Aurora to go public via SPAC merger

Autonomous vehicle startup Aurora Innovation Inc. today announced plans to go public through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, a blank-check company backed by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga Inc. founder Mark Pincus.

The merger is expected to net Aurora about $977.5 million. That’s in addition to $1 billion the startup is raising ahead of the planned stock market listing from a consortium comprising Morgan Stanley, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital and other prominent investors.

The deal puts Aurora on track to list its shares at an initial market capitalization of $13 billion. That represents a significant increase over the startup’s last private valuation of $10 billion, which it received after merging with Uber Technology Inc.’s autonomous vehicle business last year. The transaction gave the ride-hailing giant a 26% stake in the startup.

Pittsburgh-based Aurora is developing a suite of technologies that can be installed on a vehicle to let it navigate the roads without human input. It calls the suite the Aurora Driver. The startup is offering not only autonomous driving software but also maps of roads that help the software navigate with greater reliability, computing modules and sensors. Aurora has also built its own simulation tools for carrying out reliability tests.

A key component of the Aurora Driver is a technology known as frequency-modulated continuous-wave sensing. The startup obtained the technology through a pair of acquisitions that it made over the last two years.

Most autonomous driving systems, including the one being developed by Aurora, rely on lidar to collect data about the vehicle’s surroundings. Lidar sensors work by transmitting light into the environment and measuring how fast the light bounces back from nearby objects. That makes it possible to determine how far those objects are from the autonomous vehicle on which the sensors are installed. 

Usually, lidar systems generate the light in the form of millions of short laser pulses. Sensors that use frequency-modulated continuous-wave technology, in contrast, generate one continuous wave of light. According to Aurora, this approach makes the Aurora Driver less susceptible to interference from sun glare and the lidar sensors of nearby vehicles.

Developing an end-to-end autonomous driving stack complete with custom hardware and software is a resource-intensive undertaking. To support its work, Aurora has raised multiple large funding rounds from investors prior to today’s announcement of its stock market plans. One of those rounds was a $530 million investment in 2019 when Amazon.com Inc. acquired a stake.

Including the additional capital it’s set to raise through the stock market listing, Aurora will have about $2.5 billion in cash on hand when the deal closes. That should give the startup plenty of resources to continue developing its autonomous driving system.

The capital will also advance Aurora’s efforts to commercialize its technology. The startup initially hopes to bring the Aurora Driver to trucks, then expand to additional markets including package delivery and ride-hailing. 

Aurora’s shares will list on the Nasdaq after the merger with Reinvent Technology Partners Y is completed. “We believe Aurora will be the first to commercialize self-driving technology at scale for the U.S. trucking and passenger transportation markets based on its industry-leading team, technology and partnerships,” Reinvent Technology Partners Y co-founder Mark Pincus said in a statement.

Photo: Aurora

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