Mysterious Startup Aurora Innovation Granted Self-Driving-Car Test Permit in California

Little is known about this secretive company.

Aurora Innovation

A secretive startup called Aurora Innovation is the latest entity to receive an autonomous car testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Aurora is the 37th organization to receive one of these permits, according to Fortune. The startup joins automakers like Ford, Tesla, Honda, and General Motors, tech companies like Uber, Waymo, and Apple, as well as Chinese automaker SAIC, which doesn't actually sell cars in the United States at the moment.

But Aurora is much smaller than these companies, and has kept a low profile so far. It's led by Sterling Anderson, the former director of Tesla's Autopilot program, and Chris Urmson, the former head of Google's self-driving car project. Also onboard is Drew Bagnell, who previously ran the autonomy and perception team at Uber's Advanced Technologies Center. The lineup of executives lends some credibility to Aurora—but it's still unclear what the company's plans are, or how Aurora will distinguish itself from the numerous other companies working on autonomous driving.

Aurora told Fortune that it is already testing self-driving cars on closed courses, but did not say when testing on public roads would begin. It also hasn't disclosed how many cars it plans to test, or what makes and models it will use. In April, the company said it would use a 2017 Audi Q7 as a data-gathering platform.

Aurora reportedly plans to develop virtually everything needed for autonomous driving except the cars themselves. That includes a full suite of sensors, the software needed to enable autonomous driving, and the data infrastructure to support it. The company will likely partner with automakers to commercialize its technology.

That puts Aurora in roughly the same position as Waymo and fellow startup NuTonomy, both of which are focused solely on autonomous-driving tech. But unlike those two, Aurora hasn't explored using ride sharing as a way to commercialize its tech. Waymo and NuTonomy are both connected to Lyft, and NuTonomy is running a pilot self-driving taxi service in Singapore.