Self-driving technology startup Aurora is preparing to go public — netting $2 billion in cash — with the help of a SPAC, which has become the preferred way to take companies public rather than a more conventional initial public offering.
Founded five years ago by Chris Urmson, a self-driving technology pioneer, who once headed Waymo’s fledgling autonomous car unit, Aurora last year acquired Uber’s self-driving car research unit for $400 million and has partnered with automotive and truck manufacturers planning to launch their own robotic vehicles.
Aurora could carry valuation of between $11 billion and $13 billion into the SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, despite the volatility surrounded some new vehicle companies such as Lordstown Motors, Nikola and Canoo, analysts said. All three went public using a blank-check company.
“Our goal at Aurora is to make the movement of goods and people more equitable, productive, dependable and — crucially — much safer than it is today,” Urmson said in a press release. “By combining with Reinvent and with this incredible group of investors, we are even closer to deploying self-driving vehicles and delivering the benefits this technology offers the world.”
SPAC is a “natural” move
Aurora is reverse merging with Reinvent Technology Partners Y. Reinvent, which closed its initial public offering in March, takes a “venture capital at scale” approach, company officials said. In other words, it wants to offer the same financial support and value to public companies that venture capitalists offer private businesses.
“This is a natural next step for us,” Urmson told CNBC. “This will unlock the capital we need to deliver the Aurora driver as a service at scale.” Once completed, Aurora trade on the NASDAQ under the ticker symbol AUR. The new company will be named Aurora Innovation Inc.
The company’s consistently maintained it has no desire to build a vehicle, rather wants to provide the technology used by automakers for autonomous driving. Aurora Driver is currently being tested in light passenger vehicles as well as commercial trucks. Plans call for it to produce its first iteration of the Level 4 technology for the trucking industry in 2023.
Later versions will be used for other applications, such as ride-hailing services or last-mile delivery services. The company’s mum on the use of its technology by everyday drivers commuting to the office or running errands on the weekends.
Partnerships critical to long-term success
Aurora has partnerships in place with companies such as Toyota, Stellantis, Uber, Hyundai and Kia as well as Volvo Truck and PACCAR.
Aurora launched hoping to develop tech for self-driving passenger vehicles, like their rivals at Waymo. However, Urmson, who started out working on self-driving cars as a graduate student at Pittsburgh’s Carnegies Mellon, and other executives acknowledge the first commercial breakthrough in fully autonomous vehicles are likely to come in vehicles that carry commercial freight.
In the deal with PACCAR, for example, Aurora will provide the self-driving technology, including hardware, software and operational services that allows the truck maker to put self-driving vehicles out on the road.