Aurora’s safety playbook: The foundation for bringing the Aurora Driver to market safely
March 11, 2021 | 3 min. read
At Aurora, we move fast. We launched our next-generation trucks in 12 weeks. Five months after opening our office in Dallas, we were pulling customer loads autonomously with those trucks. However, we can only move as fast as we are safe. After all, we’re in this specifically to improve the safety of our roads. New data from the National Safety Council estimates that as many as 42,060 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020—that status quo is not acceptable. When self-driving technology is deployed broadly, it will save lives and make our roads safer. But that only becomes possible when we all put safety first.
We have a clear vision for building self-driving technology safely and delivering a Driver that makes our roads safer. With a committed team, we’re taking a holistic approach to threading safety into everything we do. And because delivering this technology requires collaboration and transparent communication, we work closely with partners across the industry from start to finish. In the spirit of leading with transparency, here are the core tenets of a safety-first approach.
Build a team with depth and breadth of experience
Many companies care about safety, but caring about it is just one piece of the puzzle. Safety work requires ingenuity, attention to detail, and humility. Safety teams need to have both a deep understanding of safety-critical systems and the expertise to develop and implement foundational safety practices. At Aurora, we’ve built a team of multi-disciplinary experts, from self-driving and automotive companies, to other safety-critical industries like aerospace, medicine, and nuclear power. Our safety team sets the tone for the entire company, ensuring that safety is part of our every day work across our company. (You can read more about our Head of Safety, Nat Beuse, here.)
Take a holistic approach to safety
Though much of the early dialogue on automated vehicle technology centered around the safe performance of the vehicle and the automated system, implementing a true end-to-end organizational safety approach requires a more holistic, or enterprise-wide view. To manage safety risk as an organization, we consider the safety of the technology and the safety of the company, which includes our Safety Culture. We also take a disciplined approach as we deploy time-tested practices from other industries, while forging new ground in the AV industry. Below are two of the critical practices we’re pursuing at Aurora, which embody this holistic approach.
Our Safety Management System (SMS)
SMS is an organizational approach—employed by multiple safety-critical industries, like commercial aviation—that builds processes to make operational decisions based on safety risk. SMS ensures effective safety controls are developed and remain in place to manage the safety risk, and mitigate the risk of our on-road operations. Stand-alone practices, like a specific standard about the way engineers might build a specific part of a vehicle, can’t guarantee an organization-wide safety approach, which is why the scope of SMS goes beyond engineering safety practices that ensure proper testing and reliability of individual components. We’ve continued to move quickly when it comes to SMS development, building on ATG’s impressive groundwork, and expect and strongly encourage others to adopt SMS best practices.
Our Safety Case Framework
An important part of our safety approach is the implementation of our Safety Case Framework, a structured argument substantiated with specific claims and supported with evidence that our driverless vehicles are acceptably safe to operate on public roads. Safety is not a documentation exercise that we perform once. Our goal is a continuously improving safety case that evolves alongside our technology, is built for scale, and differentiates our ability to equally and safely deliver self-driving trucks and passenger vehicles to move both goods and people.
Lead with transparency and collaboration
As an industry committed to making our roads safer, we must learn and work together. Aurora is committed to sharing our safety work and experience by participating in efforts focused on the development, understanding, and education of industry safety best practices. It’s not enough to forge new ground when it comes to safety at Aurora, we must push the entire industry forward. Here are just a few ways we are leading with transparency and collaboration both inside and outside of Aurora:
We are members of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC) – an organization focused on advancing safer testing, development, and deployment of automated vehicles through the development of industry best practices. We provide technical input on these best practices, building on the effective participation of ATG in the publication of five industry best practices.
We lead and participate in industry efforts including IEEE and Underwriters’ Laboratories.
We engage with stakeholders at each level of government, including the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
We partner with nonprofits and focus on educating the public with groups like Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), which Aurora helped to found.
We work closely as an internal team as well. For example, our world-class systems engineering team works in parallel with our safety engineers creating a tight feedback loop to develop actionable safety standards and promote a culture of safety within Aurora.
It continues to be an exciting time at Aurora, and we look forward to sharing more about our safety approach in the months ahead.
The momentum continues at Aurora and we’re hiring in all disciplines to help us solve one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Check out our careers page to see open positions and learn more about what it’s like to work at Aurora.
Delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly.