Toyota, Aurora test-drive autonomous ride-hailing fleet in Texas

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Toyota and Aurora start testing an autonomous ride-hailing fleet using Sienna minivans equipped with Aurora's self-driving system in Texas, U.S., in this handout picture released on March 23, 2022. Aurora/Handout via REUTERS

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SAN FRANCISCO, March 23 (Reuters) - Japan's Toyota Motor (7203.T) and Aurora Innovation Inc (AUR.O), a U.S. developer of automated driving systems, have started testing autonomous ride-hailing fleet in Texas, with two safety operators and no passenger on board, Aurora said on Tuesday.

Toyota's Sienna minivans, retrofitted with Aurora's self-driving system, will be tested on highways and suburban streets in the Dallas-Fort-Worth area, with the operation including trips enroute to an airport.

Autonomous vehicle startups are under pressure to generate meaningful revenue from billions of dollars of engineering investment, but scaling up the fleet is a challenge as technological hurdles remain.

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"The route showcases Aurora's ability to safely operate at highway speeds, a key technical differentiator that allows it to prioritize popular and lucrative rides," the U.S. company said in a statement.

Aurora's rival Waymo charges passengers of its driverless minivans for rides in limited suburban areas in Phoenix, and airport pickups are not available.

Waymo said on Monday it is ready to deploy driverless vehicles in the densely populated San Francisco city, without giving a timeframe for the launch. read more

Aurora, led by Chris Urmson, a former head of Google's self-driving car project that has since become Waymo, said it plans to continue adding vehicles to the fleet in preparation for commercial launch on ride-hailing networks such as Uber.

Aurora bought Uber's autonomous vehicle unit ATGin 2020 while the ride-hailing giant had acquired a 26% ownership interest in Aurora.

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Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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