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U.S. Autonomous-Car Startup Signs Deal With VW And Hyundai

An image released by Hyundai shows a hands-off driver checking his phone and drinking coffee. The company is partnering with Aurora, a U.S. startup, to boost its autonomous vehicle program.

Aurora, a startup company led by three veterans of Google, Tesla, and Uber, has signed deals with both Volkswagen and Hyundai with the goal of putting autonomous vehicle technology on the market within three years — and doing so "quickly, broadly and safely."

The partnerships will pair Aurora's sensors and software — its machine learning and artificial intelligence technology — with two companies that together produce more than 15 million vehicles each year.

Self-driving Hyundai models will be on the market by 2021, the company says.

It's part of "the reinvention of mobility and the automobile," Volkswagen Chief Digital Officer Johann Jungwirth said in a news release.

Aurora was co-founded by CEO Chris Urmson, the former chief technology officer for Alphabet's self-driving cars project; Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson, who directed Tesla's Autopilot feature; and Chief Technical Officer Drew Bagnell, who helped to start both Carnegie Robotics and Uber's Advanced Technology Center. The company is based in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Palo Alto, California.

The planned autonomous vehicles will include "fully self-driving pods, shuttles or delivery vans and self-driving trucks without a cabin," Urmson says in a blog post about the new venture.

At first, the vehicles will be tested in pilot programs, with the goal of establishing how a Mobility-as-a-Service, or MaaS, transportation system might work. Such systems are often described as combining elements of public and private travel services.

Outlining Volkswagen's hopes, Jungwirth said:

"In the future, we anticipate that people will be able to use our mobility app or digital virtual assistant to hail a self-driving electric vehicle to drive them conveniently door-to-door, or use our Volkswagen OneButton which has GPS, connectivity and a compass, as a small beautiful key fob with maximum convenience."

With Aurora's help, the carmakers hope to jump to a new level of automated driving, pushing beyond the need for a driver to monitor the vehicle on streets and highways. Hyundai says it's reaching for Level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineers' chart.

At that level, vehicles will be able not only to steer, accelerate and brake at all times, but also to respond to some conditions even if a driver does not. Level 4 is one step below full automation.

"We know the future of transportation is autonomous, and autonomous driving technology needs to be proven in the real-world to accelerate deployment in a safe and scalable manner," said Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman Woong Chul Yang.

The collaborations are being announced ahead of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off in Las Vegas next week.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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