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How we’re Building Ideal Citizens of the Road

From our leaders | September 25, 2019 | 2 min. read

By the Aurora Team

Why we’re taking the time now to program our vehicles to be good citizens of the road.

By Chris Urmson

At Aurora, we take our “no jerks” company value very seriously. This means that we don’t waste time battling over personalities and egos at work. We also take this one step further with our technology by actually programing our vehicles to be courteous citizens of the road. After all, if we don’t hire jerks, why would we make them?

There are plenty of behaviors that we have to program into our vehicles, like stopping for school buses or yielding to cyclists at right-hand turns, since those are existing laws of the road that are instrumental to safety. However, since we’re in the business of operating with integrity, another Aurora company value, we are proactively and intentionally taking the time to program our vehicles to operate like model drivers. This means, quite frankly, that you’ll see fewer “jerks” driving around.

For example, “Keep Right” laws exist in many states, but we rarely see them enforced. So, we’re developing our vehicles to generally stay out of the farthest left lane on a highway whenever possible, except when necessary to pass other vehicles. They may still move into the left lane for routing purposes, like when they’re approaching an exit that can only be accessed via the left lane, but you won’t see our vehicles “camping out” in the passing lane on a highway. In the same vein, we’re also developing our vehicles not to pass vehicles on the right, unless they are moving with the flow of traffic or need to do so for routing reasons.

Below are a few examples of other behaviors that we think make vehicles act more pleasant or delightful on the road:

  • In merging situations, our vehicles will be programmed to respect the “every-other-rule.” That means they’ll merge in a zipper fashion and won’t cut in front of you when they shouldn’t.

  • Regardless of how clearly they are marked (or not), we are developing our vehicles not to stop or wait in “Keep Clear” zones — like in front of fire stations, fire hydrants, or bus stops. We will leverage a combination of street signs or markings, laws, and anecdotal data collected from our vehicle operators to designate all areas that should be treated as “Keep Clear” zones.

  • Our vehicles are being programmed to enter an intersection only when there is enough room for the vehicle on the far side of the intersection. This means that we are doing our best to not block intersections, even during nasty gridlock situations.

We’re training our vehicle (shown above) not to enter an intersection when there is no room for it on the far side of the intersection.

We’re also currently developing other capabilities that are generally expected of drivers, including:

  • Rights-on-reds when safe and legal — even though, in many states, drivers aren’t legally required to do so.

  • Better training our vehicles to understand the correct threshold, or window of time, when they can safely make an unprotected left turn.

Though the intended trajectory of each vehicle above is to make a left-turn (depicted by the red-dotted line) the vehicle can’t safely move into the intersection because the light turned yellow before we reached the intersection. So, each vehicle is programmed to wait for the next green light to make a left-turn safely.

There’s still a lot to be done as we safely develop and deploy self-driving vehicles. However, I think we can all feel a little better knowing that when self-driving cars do get here, they won’t cut you off.

Aurora is delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly. We’re looking for talented people to join our team.

the Aurora Team

Delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly.