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Self-driving car company Aurora to work with Chinese car startup BYTON

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, 10:42 a.m.
Chris Urmson, CEO and Co-Founder of Aurora, and Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, CEO and Co-Founder of BYTON, pose in front of BYTON Concept, following the announcement of a partnership between the two companies to jointly conduct pilot deployment of Aurora's L4 autonomous driving systems on BYTON vehicles (PRNewsfoto/BYTON)
BYTON
Chris Urmson, CEO and Co-Founder of Aurora, and Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, CEO and Co-Founder of BYTON, pose in front of BYTON Concept, following the announcement of a partnership between the two companies to jointly conduct pilot deployment of Aurora's L4 autonomous driving systems on BYTON vehicles (PRNewsfoto/BYTON)

Partners with the upstart self-driving car company Aurora now include some of the oldest and largest auto manufacturers and one of the newest and smallest startups.

Aurora, which is testing autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh and California, announced it will test its self-driving technology in Chinese-made BYTON vehicles.

BYTON was largely unknown before the start of 2018, when it debuted its first vehicle at CES in Las Vegas. The low-profile luxury SUV is electric and autonomous.

“It will be the most intelligent and intuitive electric car designed for the age of autonomous driving and shared mobility,” BYTON co-founder Carsten Breitfeld told a packed exhibition hall in January at CES. “With our first BYTON, and I promise you more to come, we will revolutionize the 100-year-old legacy of driver-centric mobility and start a new era of smart mobility.”

BYTON's manufacturing and research and development offices are in Nanjing, China. Its North American headquarters are in Silicon Valley, where the company works on autonomous driving and other vehicle technologies.

The SUV's doors open automatically, without door handles. Rear-view cameras replace side-view mirrors. The car will greet you as you approach using facial recognition technology. The interior is designed as a living room. Its front seats swivel toward each other to promote conversation between passengers. The steering wheel has an integrated touch screen, and its voice operation software can support Amazon's Alexa digital assistant.

BYTON hopes to start selling in China next year and bring its SUV to America in 2020. The car will start at $45,000. The base model will get nearly 250 miles on a charge. The premium model will get nearly 325 miles.

Aurora, with offices in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Palo Alto, Calif., will work with BYTON over the next two years to test its Level 4 autonomous driving system. A Level 4 system, according tho the Society of Automotive Engineers, can operate autonomously in most environments but may need human intervention. Level 5 systems are fully autonomous. Level 5 vehicles may not have steering wheels or gas or brake pedals.

BYTON's first production SUV will have Level 3 autonomy, meaning a human is expected to respond to some driving situations. The company wants to put Level 4 and Level 5 cars on the road.

Chris Urmson, CEO of Aurora, said the company will test the technology in California.

The BYTON partnership is the third announced deal for Aurora this year. The company, founded by Urmson, who helped start Google's self-driving car program; Drew Bagnell, who led autonomy and perception at Uber's Advanced Technology Group in Pittsburgh; and Sterling Anderson, the former head of Tesla's Autopilot program, announced partnerships with Volkswagen and Hyundai in early January. Anderson told the Tribune-Review the deals would expand operations in Pittsburgh .

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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