Amazon invests in self-driving auto start-up Aurora Innovation

An Aurora self-driving Lincoln MKZ car is seen outside the company's office in the Lawrenceville neighborhood in Pittsburgh

Amazon has made its most significant move into driverless cars to date by investing in a company led by the former head of Google's autonomous vehicle unit.

The funding round was led by venture capital firm Sequoia, whose partner Carl Eschenbach will join Aurora's board.

The funding values start-up Aurora at more than $2.5bn (circa £1.9bn), according to the Financial Times.

A self-driving auto tech start-up founded by former Google, Tesla and Uber executives said on Thursday it had secured US$530 million (S$719 million) in new funding that includes a "significant" investment from Amazon.

Early previous year, it announced its first strategic partnership with Volkswagen Group to bring self-driving cars to market. CEO Chris Urmson was with Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) self-driving auto program (pre-Waymo); CTO Drew Bagnell, worked for Uber's Advanced Technologies Group; and CPO Sterling Anderson helped lead Tesla's Autopilot development. The company presently employs around 250 workers split between its Bay Area and Pittsburgh campuses.

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Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is building autonomous vehicle technology.

"This is really about accelerating and delivering on our mission, which is to deliver self-driving technology safely, quickly and broadly", Urmson said in an interview.

"We are always looking to invest in innovative, customer-obsessed companies, and Aurora is just that", Amazon said in response to an AFP inquiry.

In California alone, over 60 companies have DMV permits to test autonomous vehicles on the roads (most commonly with safety drivers in attendance), although the burgeoning industry is still dominated by cash-rich giants like Alphabet Inc. and GM. "The team at Aurora has unparalleled experience and expertise in solving the challenge of autonomous driving", said Paul Greene, a portfolio manager for the Baltimore-based investment firm's communications and technology fund.

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