VW, Hyundai Team Up on Self-Driving Cars

Volkswagen released this image in support of its autonomous driving initiative, saying its specialists “want to tap the potential of the quantum computer system to explore new machine-learning processes.”

DETROIT (CN) – Fueled by a brain trust of former Google, Tesla and Uber executives, Volkswagen and Hyundai announced Thursday that they are joining forces to tackle the emerging market of self-driving cars.

Collaborations between tech companies and traditional automakers have become a growing force in the industry. Volkswagen and Hyundai’s new partner Aurora Innovation was formed last year by ex-Google autonomous car chief Chris Urmson, ex-Tesla executive Sterling Anderson and former Uber executive Drew Bagnell.

Aurora CEO Urmson said their efforts will allow companies like Volkswagen to bring automated cars to the road quickly.

“This partnership establishes a deep collaboration using Aurora’s self-­driving technology, and together we will bring self­-driving vehicles to market at scale,” Urmson said in a statement.

The terms of each partnership were not made public.

Based in Pittsburgh and Palo Alto, California, Aurora is competing with other tech firms like Otto and Argo to bring self-driving vehicles to the market.

Google, Uber and Tesla meanwhile are scrambling for talent to steer their own autonomous car projects after the defections of Urmson and top engineers.

Urmson is the former self-driving chief technology of Alphabet’s Google and left in 2016 to found Aurora after seven years of developing self-driving vehicles at the tech giant. He has since lured top engineers away from Uber and Tesla. Anderson spearheaded development of the Model X SUV at Tesla. Bagnell worked on automated car development for Uber Technologies in Pittsburgh.

Volkswagen and Hyundai’s partnership with the startup arrives after General Motors announced in November that it expects to introduce self-driving vehicles to big cities by 2019.

Volkswagen said that it had been working with Aurora’s technology to build self-driving sensors and hardware, as well as Machine Learning and AI technology software for its vehicles.

Volkswagen Group Chief Digital Officer Johann Jungwirth said the company hoped to bring automated cars to children, as well as the sick, elderly and visually impaired. Based in Germany, the company currently produces close to 10 million vehicles each year.

“Working with Aurora, a leading self-driving system company, will give us a giant leap forward in our mission to become the world’s leading provider of sustainable mobility, with self-driving vehicles,” Jungwirth said in a prepared statement.

Analysts expect that Hyundai and Aurora’s first batch of self-driving vehicles will likely be for commercial use, such as self-driving taxis or ride-hailing services, rather than individual consumers. General Motors said in November that its self-driving vehicles will carry passengers and deliver goods in big cities by 2019.

Hyundai, which says it expects to bring automated cars to the market by 2021, previously announced a partnership with Cisco Systems and Baidu to collaborate on internet-connected cars. It has also set up a $45 million fund with South Korea’s SK Telecom and Hanwha Asset Management to invest in artificial-intelligence startups worldwide.

Volkswagen announced its partnership with Aurora ahead of next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Hyundai expects to unveil further details of its partnership at the show. The South Korean automaker will reveal the brand name of a new fuel-cell SUV that it intends to test for self-driving technology.

The company plans to show off some of its autonomous driving cars during the Winter Olympics Game in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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