Aurora will power Byton EV’s autonomous driving features


Aurora, the self-driving startup founded by Google self-driving car project alum Chris Urmson, along with Tesla Autopilot developer Sterling Anderson, CMU robotics expert and Uber vet Drew Bagnell, and a team of industry experts, will be making the autonomous smarts for Byton’s forthcoming electric vehicle. Byton, a startup that had a splashy debut at CES earlier this year.

Byton’s Concept electric SUV is a car with a lot of interesting tech features, aside from its all-electric drive train. The vehicle has a massive, dashboard-covering display that incorporates information readouts, entertainment options and vehicle controls. It’s a screen that seems somewhat ill-suited for the task of paying attention to the road while driving, and the Byton car also has front seats that swivel towards the inside of the vehicle so that those in the front can better interact with those in the back.

Both of those features are more geared toward a future in which autonomous driving is a ready and viable option for Byton owners. The car is aiming for a 2019 starting ship date, by which time it’s possible self-driving features won’t seem such a distant dream. And now we know that Byton has a technology partners on the autonomous driving side of things with the technical know-how to make it an even more realistic expectation.

Aurora, despite officially breaking cover only just last year, is already working with a range of automakers on their autonomous driving technology, including Volkswagen and Hyundai. Aurora CEO Chris Urmson explained that its goals mean it’s happy to work with companies at all stages of development and maturity to help make self-driving a practical reality.

“Our mission is to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safety, quickly and broadly,” he said in n interview. “So for us to have that broad part, it means we have to work with a nudger of great partners, and we’re very fortunate with the folks we have [as partners] to date… this is how we help the business, and we look forward to being able to engage with others in the future.”

For Byton and Aurora, this partnership will kick off with pilot test driving in California sometime soon,  and Byton hopes to eventually tap Aurora with its goal of fielding premium electric consumer vehicles with SAE Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous capabilities.

Aurora as a company is excited about its progress during its first year in operation, and is ramping up staffing and attracting key talent in a very competitive industry thanks to its pedigree and founding team, Urmson tells me.

“It started with a handful of us, a couple in my living room here in California, and a couple in Pittsburgh. We’ve been growing the team, that’s been one of the core focuses of this last year,” he said. “In my previous gig I had the privilege of helping build that program from day one, to a massive organization certainly leading the space, and now with Sterling and Drew, we have the opportunity to build version two of that, and learn from our experience, and build an organization and build a technology that can have a huge impact on the world, and do that quickly and safely.”

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Aurora will power Byton EV’s autonomous driving features


Aurora, the self-driving startup founded by Google self-driving car project alum Chris Urmson, along with Tesla Autopilot developer Sterling Anderson, CMU robotics expert and Uber vet Drew Bagnell, and a team of industry experts, will be making the autonomous smarts for Byton’s forthcoming electric vehicle. Byton, a startup that had a splashy debut at CES earlier this year.

Byton’s Concept electric SUV is a car with a lot of interesting tech features, aside from its all-electric drive train. The vehicle has a massive, dashboard-covering display that incorporates information readouts, entertainment options and vehicle controls. It’s a screen that seems somewhat ill-suited for the task of paying attention to the road while driving, and the Byton car also has front seats that swivel towards the inside of the vehicle so that those in the front can better interact with those in the back.

Both of those features are more geared toward a future in which autonomous driving is a ready and viable option for Byton owners. The car is aiming for a 2019 starting ship date, by which time it’s possible self-driving features won’t seem such a distant dream. And now we know that Byton has a technology partners on the autonomous driving side of things with the technical know-how to make it an even more realistic expectation.

Aurora, despite officially breaking cover only just last year, is already working with a range of automakers on their autonomous driving technology, including Volkswagen and Hyundai. Aurora CEO Chris Urmson explained that its goals mean it’s happy to work with companies at all stages of development and maturity to help make self-driving a practical reality.

“Our mission is to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safety, quickly and broadly,” he said in n interview. “So for us to have that broad part, it means we have to work with a nudger of great partners, and we’re very fortunate with the folks we have [as partners] to date… this is how we help the business, and we look forward to being able to engage with others in the future.”

For Byton and Aurora, this partnership will kick off with pilot test driving in California sometime soon,  and Byton hopes to eventually tap Aurora with its goal of fielding premium electric consumer vehicles with SAE Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous capabilities.

Aurora as a company is excited about its progress during its first year in operation, and is ramping up staffing and attracting key talent in a very competitive industry thanks to its pedigree and founding team, Urmson tells me.

“It started with a handful of us, a couple in my living room here in California, and a couple in Pittsburgh. We’ve been growing the team, that’s been one of the core focuses of this last year,” he said. “In my previous gig I had the privilege of helping build that program from day one, to a massive organization certainly leading the space, and now with Sterling and Drew, we have the opportunity to build version two of that, and learn from our experience, and build an organization and build a technology that can have a huge impact on the world, and do that quickly and safely.”

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Waymo gets to the heart of its case


Attorneys for Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle spinout, are nearing the end of their plaintiffs presentation against Uber in a trial that is likely to have broad ramifications for the common Valley practice of acqui-hiring talent.

The case hinges on whether the jury believes Uber’s assertion that the technology used in its autonomous car project was developed and acquired independently, in spite of the fact that the company almost assuredly received data on the same technology from Alphabet’s servers as part of Uber’s acquisition of Anthony Levandowski’s company Otto.

Today’s courtroom testimony hinged on two critical points. The first was the scope of the due diligence that Uber conducted during its negotiations with Otto. The second was whether the documents that Levandowski brought with him from Google were sufficiently vital in the development of Uber’s autonomous car project to merit damages.

Arguments ranged from the banal to the bizarre with a good portion of the proceedings taken up by a fairly lengthy explanation of Google’s security measures (quite extensive as one would assume). Uber’s defense attorneys responded by noting that one of Waymo’s top engineers carried an early prototype of its proprietary LIDAR technology to Burning Man (okay, maybe not as extensive as one would hope).

We will have more arguments tomorrow from Waymo, and then the complete case from defendant Uber. Whatever the end result, the case has serious implications for the acquisition of startups, and corporate development heads are paying close attention to how to improve processes — particularly around due diligence — to ensure they aren’t caught in an intellectual property thicket like Uber is facing right now.

To recap a bit: Uber allegedly acquired trade secrets from Waymo when it lured one of the founding figures of the autonomous vehicle movement — Anthony Levandowski — away from Google with promise of riches and independence to pursue his own path within Uber’s massive corporate machinery. Uber did wind up acquiring Levandowski — and the company he set up, Otto — along with several of Waymo’s top engineering talent.

It’s clear to most outside observers that Kalanick and Levandowski were doing some shady, shady stuff (indemnifying Otto executives against intellectual property lawsuits; downloading information from Google’s internal servers onto personal computers; wiping Google hardware; sending each other weird clips of the Gordon Gecko “greed is good” speech), but what’s less clear is how much of the technology that Levandowski accessed actually made it into Uber’s autonomous vehicle program.

While the the technical points will determine this trial’s outcome, the broader problem is that Silicon Valley has a very, very, long history of rewarding just this sort of bad behavior. The Bay Area’s tech industry was created with what may be the most famous example of intellectual property “theft” in history: the infamous “traitorous eight” who left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratories to form Fairchild Semiconductor and kicked off the modern computing era.

Fast forward a few decades, and you arrive at today’s case, with Waymo suing Uber for the theft of trade secrets related to its self-driving car program.

That Uber — a poster child for startup malfeasance and miscreantism — could manage to cast a pall over Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial spirit is yet another example of how the company’s hyper-aggressive corporate practices have done real damage to the Bay Area’s startup factory. But it’s culture of acquisitions is not unique, and the Valley needs to own up to its history.

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Waymo heads to Atlanta to test its self-driving cars


Waymo continues to expand the pool of locations where it’s testing its autonomous vehicle tech, and the latest destination is metro Atlanta. The former Google self-driving car company revealed the news on Twitter, noting that it’s expanding considerably its geographic testing footprint now that it’s got fully driverless test vehicles on the road in Phoenix.

Its test cars in cities outside of Arizona still have safety drivers at the wheel, but the more places it can get its Pacificas with autonomous tech on roads, the better for building an autonomous driving ‘brain’ that can handle anything it encounters. Atlanta has some specific challenges, including bad traffic (commute and traffic issues are ranked among the worst locations in the U.S.) and one of the more dense greater metro areas in the U.S., and temperatures that regularly reach a humid 80+ degrees Fahrenheit.

Metro Atlanta marks Waymo’s 25th test city in total, including its recent return to San Francisco. Its testing so far has consisted of mapping the city with manually driven Waymo vehicles ahead of launching its testing program in full.

A Waymo spokesperson provided the following statement to TechCrunch regarding the expansion:

Now that we have the world’s first fleet of fully self-driving cars on public roads, we’re focused on taking our technology to a wide variety of cities and environments. We’re looking forward to our testing in Metro Atlanta, and the opportunity to bring this lifesaving technology to more people in more places.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal also provided the statement below:

With our talented workforce and legacy of innovation, Georgia is at the forefront of the most dynamic, cutting edge industries like autonomous vehicles. We are thrilled to welcome Waymo to our state because fully self-driving vehicle technology holds tremendous potential to improve road safety, and we are proud Georgia is paving the way for the future of transportation.

Waymo racks up 4 million self-driven miles


Waymo continues to press its lead in terms of actual miles on roads driven, which is potentially the most important metric out there when it comes to building successful autonomous driving technology. The Alphabet-owned company that began life as Google’s self-driving car project around a decade ago now has 4 million miles driven autonomously on roads.

That 4 million miles represents the self-driving effort of Waymo’s entire test fleet, covering its original autonomous vehicles all the way up to its current driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which are actually now testing on Arizona public roads, right alongside everyday human drivers, with no safety driver behind the wheel at all.

Waymo puts the milestone in perspective by noting that it would take a human around 300 years to drive that many miles, if they were driving at the average rate of a person in the U.S. today. Plus, the pace of Waymo’s accumulation of distance driven is ramping up: It managed to gain 1 million miles between just May and November of this year — it took the company six years to rack up its first million, by comparison.

This excludes the 2.5 billion miles that Waymo has “driven” virtually in simulation, and its private testing time on its Castle facility track. The number is one that Waymo isn’t likely to stop talking about anytime soon either — miles driven in real-world conditions is a key ingredient in building a comprehensive, virtual artificially intelligent driver that can operate in service of a commercial driverless ride-hailing service, which Waymo has set as the target for its first public driverless product deployment.

Waymo’s first product will be its own on-demand ride hailing service


Waymo is firming up some of its plans around its initial go-to-market strategy for its autonomous driving technology. The company has talked about a number of potential applications of self-driving that it might explore in terms of future products, including last mile transit in partnership with cities, consumer vehicle autonomy and even trucking, but at Web Summit today, Waymo CEO John Krafcik confirmed that Waymo’s first focus in terms of commercialization will be deploying a “Waymo driverless service.”

Such a service will probably resemble the current autonomous ride-hailing trial Waymo is running in Chandler, Arizona near Phoenix. For that pilot, select members of the public are able to hail a Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which then autonomously navigates to their position, picks them up, and brings them on to their destination, all managed from an app. Onboard, there’s a start/stop button, climate controls, displays for monitoring the ride route and a one-click support button for speaking to a live agent.

Krafic said on stage that Waymo is “now working on making this commercial service available to the public,” and that “getting access will be as easy as using an app.” The service will send Waymo vehicles to riders on demand, without anyone at all on board, which will ensure that riders “have [their] own personal spaces where [they] can set back and relax, according to Krafcik.

The decision to go with this driverless hailing service as an initial go-to-market offering makes sense, since Waymo has already invested in a decent-sized fleet of Pacifica vehicles equipped with its latest self-driving hardware sensors and computing equipment. The vans themselves are well-suited to the purpose, too, with spacious, comfortable interiors and cabin comfort and media controls available to rear seat passengers via stock trim in the Pacifica Waymo is using.

Waymo is also in the process off increasing its fleet by 500 vehicles, adding to the 100 it currently has in testing.

At a recent press event at Waymo’s Castle proving grounds for its autonomous tech, Krafcik said that the Alphabet company is open to a wide range of potential models and deployments for its products, but now we know the way many people will get to experience them first.