Safety At Aurora

Aurora founder and CEO Chris Urmson is one of the most experienced and most respected self-driving car engineers in the world. His team authored a safety report earlier this year: “The New Era of Mobility.”

Recently, Urmson followed up that report with a summary of Aurora’s approach to safety:

  1. CULTURE: Practice a culture of safety
  2. TECHNOLGY: Develop the technology safely
  3. METRICS: Establish safety metrics
  4. COLLABORATION: Engage and educate

The post is worth insightful and worth reading.

Safety culture, in particular, is a critical input to safe autonomous vehicles, and one that is easy to overlook. Aurora’s focus on this is reassuring.

I would love to see more detail around metrics. Urmson states,

“At Aurora, we’ve made a commitment: We won’t deploy our self-driving vehicles on public roads without human safety drivers until our technology is safer than a human driver. Which begs the question, what does safer than a human driver actually mean?”

A few sentences later, he seems to concede that Aurora hasn’t yet zeroed in on a meaning: “we continue to focus on identifying these metrics.”

Earlier in the post, Urmson reveals:

“We resist the urge to put more and more cars on the road in an effort to ramp up on-road miles. Instead, we use on-road testing to validate our virtual tests.”

This seems in tension with the commitment to ensure super-human safety prior to deployment. In order to truly validate that Aurora’s technology is “safer than a human”, it seems like that technology is eventually going to have to go on the road in a big way.

The search for coherent AV safety standards continues.

And it might take a while:

“We expect to see small-scale deployments of self-driving vehicles in the next five years, and then see the technology phase in over the next 30 to 50 years.”

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