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Aurora Flight Sciences Pegasus PAV

Aurora Flight Sciences was started in May 1 989 by John Langford, III (PhD in Aeronautics and Public Policy from MIT) with two employees; fast forward to 2018, the company had about 550 employees among its four main sites. Aurora bills itself as «an innovative technology company which strives to create smarter aircraft through the development of versatile and intuitive autonomous systems.» On Nov. 8 2017, The Boeing Company acquired Aurora Flight Sciences.

The Aurora Pegasus Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) is an all-electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft with eight propellers for vertical flight, a tail mounted pusher-prop for forward flight and a three-surface wing configuration for cruising. The aircraft is 30 ft (9.14 m) long, 28 ft (8.53 m) wide, a maximum range of 50 miles (80 km), carry a load of 496 lbs (225 kg) and its maximum speed is 112 mph (180 km / h). It is a two (2) passenger aircraft and can be piloted or flown autonomously.

Aurora is an independent subsidiary of Boeing. What that means is that it combines Aurora’s innovation with Boeing’s ‘strength. They are the world’s largest [aerospace company] with one of the most successful product lines. But they do not build eVTOL today. No company builds eVTOL today. That is a market that does not exist.

So how do you go after a market that does not exist? The idea is to have Aurora explore these markets that involve very advanced technology, then do the prototyping work, then the market exploration work, and hopefully find new markets and new programs that can be fed into Boeing so that when someone wants a few thousands of those airplanes, Boeing can do it. So that’s the idea behind the merger, our innovation with their size and strength. — John S. Lanford, III.

From Vertiflite magazine, May / Jun. 2018, page 48.

Aurora s aircraft is born out of a 2017 partnership with Uber as part of the Uber Elevate Mission. Initially, a 1/10 model was flown with and without a fuselage. This was followed by a fully configured 1/4 sized model. On Jan. 22, 2019, a full-size prototype of this design (registration details for tail number N83AU here) was successfully hovered at the Manassas Regional Airport in Manassas, Virginia, USA. The PAV prototype completed a controlled takeoff, hover and landing testing the vehicle’s autonomous functions as well as the ground control systems.

Aurora expects that the noise at takeoff will blend in with background road traffic noise at a height of 6-100 ft (18-30 m), making the aircraft essentially «inaudible» from the ground when in cruise flight.

This is what revolution looks like, and it’s because of autonomy, said John Langford, III, president and chief executive officer of Aurora Flight Sciences. Certifiable autonomy is going to make quiet, clean and safe urban air mobility possible.

From Vertiflite magazine, Mar./ Apr. 2019, page 37.

On June 4, 2019 at 7:09 a.m., the Aurora Flight Sciences Pegasus Passenger Air Vehicle (PAV) number N83AU — which was uncrewed and remotely piloted — crashed during a landing on runway 34L at the Manassas Regional Airport, Manassas, Virginia, USA. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported the details in October. It is interesting to note that the world first learned about of the name of PAV aircraft, «Pegasus,» from this NTSB report.

According to the NTSB report, Aurora Flight Sciences was flying a pre-planned low speed flight stability test including side-to-side and forward flight maneuvers with the pusher propeller off. The pilots then noticed «brief data dropouts and abnormal motor speeds,» and decided to end the flight. The pilot followed normal operation procedures by entering the autoland function and shortly after the start of a normal descent, all electric motors stopped and the aircraft crash landed.

A review of the recorded data was provided by the operator / manufacturer revealed that airframe vibration occurred in a resonant mode and was transmitted through the structure into the flight controller. The accelerations resulting from the vibrations briefly exceeded the jerk logic threshold and the aircraft entered the ground mode, subsequently commanding the motors to shutdown. The aircraft was equipped with a radar altimeter, but in this test configuration it was not used for ground detection in the autoland sequence. — NTSB report.

There were no injuries but there was structural damage to multiple parts of the aircraft and two motors were fractured. According to an EVTOL news report, Aurora Flight Sciences plans on resuming the flying of their second prototype in early 2020.

As one of Uber Elevate’s vehicle partners, the aircraft has been designed as an Air Taxi to operate in urban environments and to easily fly, to and from Uber’s Skyports. The PAV for Uber’s missions will be a four (4) passenger eVTOL aircraft. Aurora also has other hybrid-electric VTOL technologies it can apply to the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) market. The organization has been responsible for the development of other VTOL aircraft in the past, including the Aurora LightningStrike.

Public autonomy: Aurora Innovation reportedly next in line for SPAC

Report: PACCAR and Volvo Group autonomous partner eyeing reverse merger

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Aurora Innovation could be the third autonomous trucking software developer to go public, the second via SPAC. (Photo: Aurora)

Though the frothy excitement of special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) is going flat in the face of federal scrutiny, autonomous-vehicle software maker Aurora Innovation is reportedly close to a merger with a blank-check company started by one of its investors.

Aurora, led by autonomous driving pioneer Chris Urmson, could agree to a business combination with Reinvent Technology Partners Y (NASDAQ: RTPYU), the third SPAC launched by LinkedIn co-founder and Aurora investor Reid Hoiffman, social game developer Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson, the website TechCrunch reported Friday.

FreightWaves could not independently confirm the report, which cited unidentified sources saying the definitive merger could be announced as soon as this week. Aurora did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Aurora also declined a comment to TechCrunch.

An Aurora SPAC would follow the recent reverse merger announced by autonomous-trucking software maker Plus, backed by Hennessy Capital in its fifth SPAC. Rival TuSimple was the first to reach public markets in a traditional initial public offering (IPO) in April.

SPAC scrutiny

According to TechCrunch, the valuation of Aurora — which counts PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) and Volvo Group (OTC: VLVLY) as partners in its relatively recent expansion into commercial vehicle autonomy — could be valued at $ 12 billion to $ 20 billion.

According to regulatory filings, Reinvent Technology Partners Y priced its IPO of 85 million units at $ 10 per share to raise $ 850 million. The SPAC issued an additional 12.7 million shares with total gross proceeds of $ 977 million.

Aurora told the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in March that it had raised $ 54.9 million in an equity offering that began in March.

The SEC has become increasingly cautious about SPACs, of which 330 with a total value of nearly $ 105 billion have launched this year, according to SPACInsider.

The SEC has warned about the valuation of stock warrants, often awarded at a set price to early SPAC share purchasers. Many de-SPACed companies where business combinations have been completed, have recharacterized warrants as liabilities instead of equity based on SEC guidance. The non-cash adjustments typically have no bearing on its operations.

Other SPACs

Hoffman, Pincus and Thompson have formed three SPACs, or so-called blank-check companies that pool investor funds in a shell company that conduct an IPO with the sole purpose of merging with an existing business. Two of those settled on private company mergers.

In February, Reinvent Technology Partners said it would merge with 12-year-old electric vehicle takeoff and landing (eVTOL) company Joby Aviation based in Santa Cruz, California.

Home insurance startup Hippo agreed to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners Z. (NYSE: RTPZ) in March.

Joby has raised more money than its rivals, including $ 400 million from Toyota Motor Corp., (NYSE: TM), which will help it with manufacturing, according to Bloomberg. Joby recently took over Uber Technologies Inc. s flying-car division. Uber (NYSE: UBER) invested $ 75 million in Joby and committed to adding Joby s air taxis to its app.

Hoffman s investment in Aurora

Uber also invested in Aurora, to whom it sold its Autonomous Technology Group (ATG) in December. Uber paid Aurora $ 400 million for a 26% stake in the combined company valued at $ 10 billion. ATG was valued at $ 7.25 billion based on a $ 1 billion investment in 2019 from Toyota, automotive components manufacturer DENSO and SoftBank s Vision Fund.

Aurora is developing autonomous software for Toyota passenger vehicles.

Aurora raised $ 90 million in February 2018 from Greylock Partners, where Hoffman is a partner. He and Mike Volpi from Index Ventures, which also participated in the capital raise, became Aurora board members.

In 2019, Aurora raised $ 530 in a Series B round led by Sequoia Capital. Sequoia partner Carl Eschenbach serves on Aurora s board. Reinvent Capital was a participant in the round. Greylock and Index Ventures re-upped as well.

Aurora s trucking ambitions

In a recent blog post, Aurora said it is in the process of mapping highways throughout Texas to expand revenue-generating autonomous runs supervised by a human safety driver.

«Our first commercial pilots will move goods for shippers and carriers on several key ‘middle-mile routes in Texas, which moves more freight by trucks than any other state,» Aurora said. «For shippers and carriers with existing hubs and large volumes of freight, we expect to ultimately drive the complete route with no need for an intermediate consolidation point.»

The combination of Aurora with Uber ATG increased the workforce to about 1,600 people.

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