Toyota and Aurora are bringing their robotaxi partnership to Texas roads. TechCrunch reports the two companies are launching an autonomous ride-hailing test in the Dallas-Fort Worth area using modified Sienna hybrid minivans. The project will focus on highways and other high-speed roads, and is already dealing with challenges like high-speed merges, construction and vehicles stopped on shoulders.
The test is small, and the vans aren't truly driverless. Each vehicle will have both a behind-the-wheel supervisor as well as a monitor in a passenger seat. The Siennas will drive autonomously up to 70MPH, however, and Aurora said it would both grow the fleet and expand testing into more urbanized areas over the months ahead.
Aurora chose Texas both due to an abundance of major trucking routes (to help with its cargo-carrying plans) and the power to develop and test high-priority trips for its Aurora Connect robotaxi platform, such as rides to the airport. The company's trucks are already ferrying goods for Uber Freight in Texas.
There's plenty of pressure for Toyota and Aurora to succeed with the test. Aurora bought Uber's self-driving unit in December 2020 to help speed-up its ride-hailing plans, and it ultimately hopes to plug Connect into Uber and other hailing services. The sooner experiments like this bear fruit, the sooner Toyota, Aurora and Uber can compete with rivals like Cruise and Waymo, both of which are already offering limited rides to the public.