Ioanna is a writer at TNW. She covers the full spectrum of the European tech ecosystem, with a particular interest in startups, sustainabili Ioanna is a writer at TNW. She covers the full spectrum of the European tech ecosystem, with a particular interest in startups, sustainability, green tech, AI, and EU policy. With a background in the humanities, she has a soft spot for social impact-enabling technologies.
Toyota and Aurora Innovation, a US developer of self-driving systems, just started testing autonomous robotaxis in Texas.
What you need to know: The test fleet consists of custom-made Toyota Sienna vehicles, retrofitted with Aurora’s self-driving system, the Aurora Driver.
The hybrid electric vehicles are built on Toyota’s specially designed “Sienna Autono-MaaS” (S-AM) platform, can go up to 96km/h, and rely on Aurora’s proprietary FirstLight LiDAR for safe driving at highway speeds.
Aurora’s testing the fleet on highways and suburban streets in the Dallas-Fort-Worth area, with the operation including trips en route to an airport.
The rides are taking place with two safety operators on board — one behind the wheel to supervise Aurora Driver’s behavior, and one in the passenger seat to monitor and take notes for the engineering team.
According to the company, the Aurora Drive already shows promising results: it can handle Texas U-turns, high-speed merges, and lane changes. Additionally, it can detect obstacles, and it’s able to react to stop-and-go traffic and inclement weather.
What’s the takeaway?: Considering that the testing comes six months after Aurora and Toyota unveiled the prototype Siennas and a year after their partnership was announced, Aurora is progressing fast. And, yes, there seems to be a clear path to commercialization.
However, other competitors are ahead in the robotaxi game. Brands like Waymo, Cruise, and Ford are already operating autonomous ride-hailing fleets in various US cities, including Phoenix, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.
So for Aurora and Toyota to stay in the race, they really need to rush their way to commercialization.
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