«  View All Posts

Prioritizing Safety: A Spotlight on Driverless Trucking Capabilities

Aurora Driver | March 26, 2024 | 4 min. read

By Nat Beuse

With driverless commercial launch on the horizon, it’s been an exciting year at Aurora as we’ve continued to validate the performance of our autonomous trucks. As we’ve shared before, safety is at the core of this process, especially as we mature advanced capabilities necessary to help prevent collisions and efficiently haul freight for our customers. 

We believe that openly communicating about the progress of our autonomous trucking technology is essential to building trust with the general public, regulators, safety leaders, and the communities in which we operate.

When we launch our product on public roads, we don’t want it to be a surprise – our goal is to make the path to driverless operations clear and easy to understand. 

Our team recently highlighted a subset of our validated driverless capabilities at our test track in Pittsburgh, where we hosted analysts, investors, and the media for a transparent look at how Aurora is preparing to launch our product. Guests saw a driverless Aurora Driver-powered truck safely interact with a law enforcement vehicle, respond to pedestrians who unexpectedly entered the path of the vehicle, react to a tire blowout, and more. The keynote from the event can be viewed online here, and we’re sharing videos from this driverless testing below.

Emergency Vehicle Interactions: Working Closely with Public Safety Officials

We’ve worked closely with public safety officials to help ensure our autonomous trucks can respond appropriately when they encounter emergency vehicles on the road. This has included coordination with multiple public safety agencies across the country, including in Texas where we plan to launch our driverless trucking product, and we’re grateful to partner with safety leaders to make roads safer for everyone. 

In this instance, we had a law enforcement vehicle pull over a driverless Aurora Driver-powered truck on the test track. The Aurora Driver recognized the vehicle’s lights, found an appropriate place to pull over, and safely came to a stop. As shown here, police officers will then be able to access information about the autonomous truck via an accessible panel on the side of the vehicle and contact the Aurora team as needed. While we anticipate scenarios like these will be rare, it is essential we perform these maneuvers effectively in order to comply with the law and maintain the safety of the roadway.

Expecting the Unexpected: Responding Quickly to Pedestrians

Safety-focused autonomous vehicles must not only track and anticipate the actions of other vehicles, but also be prepared for unexpected developments that require rapid action. 

One such scenario is a pedestrian suddenly stepping into the road – becoming visible after being obscured behind another vehicle or object. The Aurora Driver must identify the pedestrian and act quickly in the subsequent moments, slowing to a stop or merging lanes as appropriate. In the video above, the Aurora Driver appropriately identifies and responds to an unexpected pedestrian (represented here by a mobile mannequin) in two instances. In the first, the Aurora Driver merges multiple lanes away from the pedestrian – keeping them out of harm’s way.  In the second, another moving vehicle blocked the autonomous truck’s ability to change lanes, so the Aurora Driver braked and came to a safe stop in front of the pedestrian. This capability is essential for operating safely on public roads, even in environments where pedestrians are not often present, like highways.

Decisive Action: Reacting to a Tire Blowout

To mitigate risk on the road, our autonomous vehicles must quickly evaluate issues and respond not just safely, but decisively. Much of this work is managed by the Aurora Driver’s Fault Management System, and tire blowouts are a particularly severe issue that must be handled effectively in order to minimize risk to other drivers. 

In this scenario, our autonomous truck experienced a tire blowout. The Aurora Driver swiftly recognized the issue and safely brought the truck to a stop on the shoulder. This response requires that the self-driving system have a thorough understanding of the health of the vehicle as well as the ability to react as soon as something goes wrong. As we scale our technology to dozens, hundreds, and eventually thousands of driverless vehicles, scenarios like this one will be unavoidable. When they occur, the Aurora Driver is engineered to respond safely and appropriately. 

Defensive Driving: Anticipating Reckless Road Behavior

One of the challenges of driving for both humans and autonomous vehicles alike is anticipating the behavior of other drivers. While most folks on the road drive responsibly, some can be reckless – weaving between lanes, accelerating at unsafe speeds, and harshly braking without warning. We’ve prepared the Aurora Driver to perceive reckless actors at both close and long-range, anticipate their actions when possible, and react quickly, helping prevent collisions and keeping others safe. 

Here, a vehicle cuts off our autonomous truck and slams on the brakes – an aggressive move with significant potential to cause a crash. The Aurora Driver anticipates that the vehicle is going to cut into its lane and responds immediately, hitting the brakes and avoiding a collision. We unfortunately see behavior like this on Texas highways often and, when reckless driving does occur, our autonomous trucks are built to help minimize risk for everyone on the road. 

Responsible Driving: Handling Dangerous Debris on the Road

One dangerous scenario we see frequently on Texas highways is the presence of debris. Busy highways can lead to unexpected obstacles, and objects that fall from vehicles and pieces of shredded tires are common. We’re preparing the Aurora Driver to handle these situations safely – slowing down, merging lanes, and getting out of the way of debris as necessary. 

In the scenarios shown here, the Aurora Driver perceives tires, trashcans, mattresses, and suitcases on the road, quickly evaluates the most appropriate maneuver, and decides to merge away or nudge around the debris within its lane. This is a capability that our trucks already use frequently in commercial pilots for customers, and continuing to do so will be essential when we deploy driverlessly.

Safety Guides Aurora’s Path to Driverless Operations

These are just some of the capabilities that the Aurora Driver has validated in advance of driverless operations. They’re essential for closing our safety case, and we will not launch our driverless product until this process is complete. 

We look forward to continuing to transparently show our responsible, safety-focused approach to autonomous vehicle development and deployment. For more on how Aurora is prioritizing safety, read our Safety Report or visit www.aurora.tech/safety.

Nat Beuse

Aurora's Chief Safety Officer