Oct. 19 - 6 min read

Automating the middle-mile with Aurora Horizon

Automating the middle-mile with Aurora Horizon

How we plan to deliver on the promise of autonomous trucking

Aurora has an audacious mission to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly. As part of our mission to truly deliver on the promise of these benefits, we are creating a transportation ecosystem by partnering with automakers, fleet management companies, freight carriers, and fleet service partners.

We’re building Aurora Horizon to automate the middle mile of full truckload (FTL) and less than truckload (LTL) hauls. Trucking is a $700 billion industry in the U.S. with significant inefficiencies, an ongoing driver shortage, and unrelenting demand. Today, we’re sharing our vision for how we expect Aurora Horizon to provide carriers and fleet owners with a safe, reliable, and efficient option for transporting goods—one that supplements human truck drivers, increases fleet utilization, and lowers operational costs. 

Terminal-to-terminal driver-as-a-service

Logistics is a complicated business with lots of moving pieces. We see an opportunity to improve the efficiency of hauling a load by introducing Aurora Horizon with a terminal-to-terminal network. This means that our customers will drop off and pick up their trailers at our terminals, which are positioned at major freight hubs along our launch lanes, and the Aurora Driver will take care of the long hauls. 

Importantly, this model will allow us to seamlessly integrate with our customers’ businesses and existing operations. As their technology partner and supplier, we will provide our customers with a stable and flexible driver supply that can operate around the clock, increasing revenue per vehicle while enabling them to scale with demand. In this way, carriers and fleet owners will be able to smoothly transition to hybrid fleets of human- and Aurora Driver-operated vehicles. 

What will our terminal-to-terminal driver-as-a-service look like in practice? Let’s break it down into before, during, and after the autonomous haul.

Before: Load scheduling and inspections

When we receive a customer load request through Aurora Beacon, an Aurora operator will reserve an available departure slot and Aurora Driver-powered tractor using the Aurora Beacon scheduling tool.

Once the customer trailer arrives at our terminal and is checked in by terminal security, we will collect the Bill of Lading—a document that each load is legally required to have—and upload its information about the trailer’s contents, origin, and destination to Aurora Beacon. 

To verify that the sensors on the Aurora Driver-powered tractor are working properly, a terminal operator will drive the tractor through a calibration array before navigating to the trailer for coupling. 

In compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines, each tractor and trailer will be inspected before it leaves the terminal on a mission. These pre-trip inspections focus on critical safety components such as brakes, steering mechanisms, lights and reflectors, tires, and emergency equipment to ensure that Aurora Driver-powered trucks are in safe operating condition. If the vehicle has any deficiencies or defects, our terminal and vehicle operators will record the details and either instigate a repair or certify that repair is unnecessary. 

Once the load is ready, the terminal operators will drive the truck to the terminal departure zone where the Aurora Driver will conduct a final check on the autonomy system for the right software and map versions. Our operations teams will confirm that road and weather conditions along the planned route are suitable for autonomous operations, and then the truck will be cleared for dispatching.

During: Departure, monitoring, and arrival

The terminal operators will initiate autonomy and the Aurora Driver will take over control of the truck, leaving the terminal and heading out on a pre-set route. 

As the Aurora Driver proceeds to the destination terminal, autonomously navigating everyday driving scenarios, our customers and operators will monitor its journey and receive notifications about expected arrival times through Aurora Beacon.

While en route, if the Aurora Driver encounters a situation where the autonomy solution is unclear, remote support specialists will be able to provide high-level guidance for the Aurora Driver to act on if it is safe to do so. 

Once the truck reaches its destination, the Aurora Driver will pull into the arrival zone at another Aurora terminal before disengaging from autonomy.

After: More inspections and delivery

Once the truck is parked and the autonomy system has been turned off, our terminal operators will perform post-trip inspections and decouple the trailer from the tractor. As with the pre-trip inspections, both the tractor and trailer will be rigorously examined for deficiencies that could affect the safe operation of the vehicle. Aurora operators will then submit a thorough report, offload the Aurora Driver’s data log of the trip, and begin refueling, cleaning, and any necessary repairs. 

Finally, the customer will arrive at the terminal with a pickup authorization. The customer will inspect the Aurora-transported trailer and paperwork, and then take the load back through security to its final destination. 

The dawn of a new era in transportation 

This terminal-to-terminal model is the most efficient way for us to introduce our self-driving technology to our freight customers in the near term. 

In the future, as we mature our technology, we plan to transition to an end-to-end driver-as-a-service model—where Aurora Driver-powered trucks move customer loads to and from warehouses, and ultimately from distribution centers to stores, improving the utilization of our customers’ fleets and the efficiency of their supply chains while also reducing their costs. 

Keep an eye out for more progress updates as we continue to build out the foundation of a strong transportation operation to enable the commercial launch of Aurora Horizon.

Cautionary Statement Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

This post contains certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the federal securities laws. All statements contained in this post that do not relate to matters of historical fact should be considered forward-looking statements, including but not limited to, those statements around the anticipated operations and offerings within our terminal-to-terminal services, the benefits of our offerings to customers, and the commercial launch of our trucking product, Aurora Horizon. These statements are based on management’s current assumptions and are neither promises nor guarantees, but involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other important factors that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. For factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from the forward-looking statements in this post, please see the risks and uncertainties identified under the heading “Risk Factors” section of Aurora Innovation, Inc.’s (“Aurora”) Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended June 30, 2022, filed with the SEC on August 12, 2022, and other documents filed by Aurora from time to time with the SEC, which are accessible on the SEC website at www.sec.gov. All forward-looking statements reflect our beliefs and assumptions only as of the date of this post. Aurora undertakes no obligation to update forward-looking statements to reflect future events or circumstances.

Aurora Team
Aurora delivers the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly

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