Aurora is engaging outsiders to build safety efforts and public confidence in driverless vehicles

Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company that acquired Uber ATG last year, has assembled a team of outside experts, shared new details about its operation in a self-assessment safety report, and set up a website to convince consumers who are suspicious of the technology that they may one day share or even use the road with.

Aurora said Thursday it was tapping into aviation safety, insurance, medical and automotive safety experts – anyone outside of the niche AV industry – to give an outside perspective on the company’s overall security approach to looking for loopholes in its system and advise on the best ways to share its progress and records with regulators and the public. The advisory group is designed to complement Aurora’s existing safety efforts, which include testing and development on the road.

“I think we almost did the ‘Field of Dreams’ analysis for a while, which says, ‘Well if we build it they’ll come, just look at iPhones,'” said Nat Beuse, Aurora’s chief security officer in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “We always compare it to these other consumer products, and I’m not so sure how we win the hearts and hearts of consumers in every single community in the United States.”

Beuse, who previously led the security team at Uber ATG and once oversaw the development of automated vehicles at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the goal is to make driverless vehicles – be it robots that transport people or trucks – widespread. That can’t happen, he said, without being able to measure and show the public that the technology is safe. He noted that public trust is one of the two biggest threats he sees to the AV industry.

“If we only worry, there are a small number of people we are exposed to [AVs] We’ll never see the benefits of this technology and the far-reaching, far-reaching changes and the impact it can have on our lives, “he said.” We have a lot more to do there [gaining public trust]. Beuse added that gaining public trust should be done in coordination with the government.

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“I think for too long it was like, ‘You, the industry, you solve it. They build this stuff, ‘”he said. “And I really think it’s a partnership. Of course we are building the technology, we have a huge responsibility, but the government has a huge, huge role to play and help us get the public on board.”

Members of the Security Advisory Board include the President and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Shailen Bhatt, Dave Carbaugh, the former Boeing Chief Aviation Safety Pilot, and Victoria Chibuogu Nneji, the chief engineer and innovation strategist at Edge Case Research. Other members include the President of Biologue, Jeff Runge, who is also a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Adrian Lund, executive member of HITCH42, LLC and past president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the CEO of GHS Aviation Group, George Snyder.

The committee, which has already met, consists of people who “don’t live and breathe technology,” said Beuse.

Most importantly, for Aurora and the rest of the industry, the emerging question, “How Safe is Safe Enough?” when it comes to driverless vehicles. One metric that has been adopted and increasingly criticized is comparing vehicle miles driven and vehicle miles per “disengagement,” an industry jargon term that means that a human security officer has taken over the computer that drives the vehicle.

“We were pretty adamant that this wasn’t really a metric because you can drive around a parking lot and generate some interactions, and that’s very different from driving in a city – and oh, by the way, it’s very different when you are drives on the autobahn, “explains Beuse.

Aurora is part of the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC), which includes Daimler, Ford, GM, Honda, Lyft, Motional, SAE and Toyota, which is working on better safety metrics. The new Aurora Security Advisory Board is not working directly on the AVSC project, but it does provide general guidance that could aid in that effort.

While there is still a lot of work to be done to validate these new metrics, the group has a handful that they think are pretty promising, Beuse said.

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