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Volkswagen is partnering with Aurora, the Silicon Valley company headed by Google’s former self-driving chief Chris Urmson, on autonomous car research, underscoring how traditional carmakers are looking to the technology industry to help them adapt to a self-driving future.
Volkswagen is preparing to launch self-driving taxi fleets in multiple cities in 2021 and plans to launch dozens of autonomous test vehicles on the road this year in conjunction with Aurora. By 2020, it hopes to have thousands of vehicles being tested in 2020, according to chief digital officer Johann Jungwirth.
The carmaker plans to spend more than €34bn on self-driving and electric vehicle research over the next five years, but did not disclose any financial details of the Aurora deal.
The deal will focus on developing a fleet of self-driving Volkswagen vehicles that can be summoned on demand and provide a transportation service which the company hopes will eventually be offered all over the world.
By partnering with Aurora, the German company has thrown its hat in with one of Silicon Valley’s most-high profile and secretive groups led by a pioneer of self-driving research.
Mr Urmson, who left Alphabet in 2016, co-founded Aurora last year along with Tesla’s former autopilot chief Sterling Anderson, and robotics professor Drew Bagnell, previously a founder of Uber’s self-driving car unit.
One of the tenets of the company is that it can bring fully autonomous cars to the road faster by working closing with automakers, which raises the possibility that it could eventually license its software to them.
“Our mission is to get this tech out as quickly and broadly and safely as possible,” said Mr Anderson. “To do that, we fundamentally believe that we need to design the whole system as an integrated unit. That means designing in conjunction with close partners”, such as automakers, he added.
Mr Jungwirth said: “We saw an opportunity here to really take the fast lane and go straight to level four plus, level five autonomy.”
Along with the Volkswagen deal, Aurora also announced a partnership on Thursday with Hyundai. The South Korean automaker is set to debut a new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle next week that it believes will be well suited for autonomous driving.