Amazon invests in self-driving vehicle startup Aurora

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Amazon pushed a little deeper into self-driving cars and trucks Thursday.

The tech giant announced an investment in Aurora, a highly regarded Silicon Valley startup that develops technology to power fully autonomous vehicles.

The move is a clear sign that Amazon doesn’t want to miss out on an innovation that has the potential to create a sea change in business and society.

“Autonomous technology has the potential to help make the jobs of our employees and partners safer and more productive, whether it’s in a fulfillment center or on the road, and we’re excited about the possibilities,”Amazon said in a statement about the investment.

Amazon is part of a handful of investors — including Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Shell Ventures — that participated in the funding round, which raised more than $530 million. The funding values Aurora at more than $2.5 billion.

The size of Amazon’s investment wasn’t revealed. Amazon and Aurora declined to elaborate on any partnerships that may result from the investment.

But Amazon’s shipping costs nearly doubled from 2015 to 2017 to $21.7 billion, according to its annual report. Autonomous delivery vehicles could help reduce those costs.

For more than five years, Amazon has internally developed autonomous drones to deliver packages. It’s yet to deploy them.

Drones are just one of Amazon’s experiments in autonomous technology with delivery potential. Earlier this month, a photo surfaced on social media of a self-driving truck from the startup Embark pulling an Amazon trailer.

Two weeks ago, Amazon announced it’s testing small delivery robots that drive on sidewalks in Snohomish County, Washington. Amazon is using six robots to deliver packages on weekdays during daytime hours. The robots are accompanied by an Amazon employee.

Amazon’s investment in Aurora comes amid a decline in hype surrounding self-driving vehicles. Industry leaders increasingly acknowledge the myriad challenges that face the industry as it attempts to go mainstream.

“There’s been some increased skepticism in the market. I think that’s natural,” Aurora CEO Chris Urmson told CNN Business. “It takes awhile to build this stuff. I certainly feel optimistic still.”

Before Aurora, Urmson led Google’s self-driving car project, which is now known as Waymo. He co-founded Aurora in late 2016 with Sterling Anderson, who previously led Tesla’s autopilot program, and Drew Bagnell, an early member of Uber’s self-driving program.

Aurora’s employs slightly more than 200 people, according to Urmson. It’s positioned itself as an open platform, where cars and trucks from different companies would share data to help each other drive safer. Aurora has struck partnerships with Volkswagen, Hyundai and the Chinese carmaker Byton.

“If you think about the other big names that are developing the technology, they’re all tied up in one way or another with another larger company,” Urmson said. “For our partners one of the things they may find appealing is the fact that if you actually want to place a bet on self-driving technology, we’re the legitimate independent alternative.”

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