Our Aurora Voices series celebrates the people and teams whose unique experiences, backgrounds, and voices bring Aurora’s mission to life.
Meet Nat, Aurora's Head of Safety
Nat Beuse is inspired by saving lives. Before coming to Aurora, he oversaw automated-vehicle developments for the Department of Transportation and led the safety team at Uber ATG. He’s also on the board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and when he’s not thinking about safety, he can be found in Pittsburgh cooking Caribbean food or boating on the Allegheny River.
Tell us about the path that led you to Aurora. Why autonomous vehicles and why Aurora?
For nearly two decades, I had the honor of serving as an executive at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is part of the US Department of Transportation and is charged with safeguarding all of us as we travel on public roads. I had the opportunity to work on challenging but rewarding aspects of safety and had a direct impact on saving lives—there are not too many jobs in the world where you can say that!
Here is Nat during his days at NHTSA visiting Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel to evaluate new research around autonomous vehicles and pedestrians.
Your work is not easy. What motivates you to keep doing it?
Addressing the safety challenges and realizing the promise of self-driving involves a complicated mixture of great engineering, finding new ways to educate consumers, and exploring new approaches to safety.
When it comes to self-driving, there is no magic standard to consult and no one way to do things. That is on us to figure out, which makes it extremely rewarding to be in this space. We are shaping how this technology will be deployed and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime challenge.
Tell us about one of the coolest challenges you’re trying to solve.
Okay, this might depend on your definition of “cool” but it's certainly interesting! We are working on the infrastructure and methodology to take safety information from across the organization so that it’s always clear what organizational and technical safety risks exist. This enables us to understand where we face challenges and empowers everyone in the organization to make informed decisions, with proper oversight from leadership. Plus, it helps us move faster. This is a technique used in some other critical safety industries, but we are tailoring it for self-driving and Aurora.
What’s your day-to-day work?
Following Aurora’s acquisition of ATG, we’ve been focused on integrating our teams and technology, while also making sure the work doesn’t slow down. My days are spent working with my team on external safety standards and internal safety policies, supporting our engineering efforts, and continuing to strengthen our safety culture.
How do you know when a system is “safe enough” or “safer than a human driver”?
This is the question I get asked most often over dinner or drinks. We know what “as good as a human driver” means. It means nearly 40,000 people dying every year on our roads. We can and must do better. Human drivers are a good reference for conversion and can help inform some analysis with respect to autonomy performance, but that’s not enough. One way we’re analyzing this question at Aurora is by engineering our safety case into our product and into the way we work as an organization.
What does it really mean to build a company with a strong safety culture?
It means empowering employees to do the right thing even when no one is looking. You can have all of the great processes in place, but if employees are not engaged, it doesn’t matter. Safety isn’t a check box we tick off, it’s part of our DNA day in and day out.
What has it been like to work remotely given the pandemic?
Well, my kids are occasionally running around the house while I am in meetings. Just the other day they made their own Star Wars Mandalorian costumes and were jetpacking around the house. It certainly adds a new dimension when you are trying to have an important work conversation only to see a Mandalorian fly by!
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m an avid chef and love Caribbean cuisine. I am known to make up recipes on the fly, often with too much heat! Even when I try to make the same dish twice, I always end up adding something new that changes the flavor profile. And I love boating. My family has spent many weekends out on the Allegheny River over the last year.
A picture taken by Nat during a boating trip on the Allegheny River last summer.