SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. autonomous driving startup Aurora has added Chinese electric vehicle maker Byton to its growing list of clients for self-driving systems, Byton said on Monday, marking the latest partnership between automakers and tech companies.
China’s Byton - a newcomer co-founded by two former BMW executives - has already released plans for a premium electric SUV vehicle, the latest in a series of China-backed autonomous prototypes shown off in the past two years.
Aurora, launched in 2016 by a group of self-driving veterans, is already working with Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) and Hyundai Motor Co to develop a platform for autonomous driving within the carmakers’ vehicles.
The company was co-founded by Chris Urmson, the former head of Alphabet Inc’s Google’s self-driving program, Sterling Anderson, who ran Tesla Inc’s autopilot program, and robotics expert Drew Bagnell.
Unveiled last month at CES in Las Vegas, Byton’s $45,000 vehicle features a dashboard screen spanning the width of the car and a tablet device on the steering wheel.
Byton plans to build the vehicle in Nanjing. It it will be available in China near the end of 2019, with the United States and Europe to follow.
First models will be partially autonomous, providing advanced driver assistance systems, with full autonomy to be enabled from 2020 through a software upgrade, Byton has said.
Byton Chief Executive Carsten Breitfeld told Reuters in September that current carmakers, for the most part, have not built vehicles taking full advantage of consumer electronics.
“Apple created a platform and profits from every transaction made with their objects. We will offer content for our consumers,” Breitfeld said, adding that designing a car where drivers and passengers can watch movies, make conference calls or surf the internet is his goal.
“For this you need a completely different architecture and computing power,” Breitfeld said.
The company opened a North American headquarters in Silicon Valley in December and has already announced it is working with global auto suppliers Bosch [ROBG.UL] and Faurecia SA on powertrain and braking systems, and interiors, respectively.
Additional reporting By Edward Taylor in Frankfurt; Editing by Steve Orlofsky