Aurora takes fresh approach to ‘safe enough’

The general idea of safety case frameworks arose from another catastrophe, a series of explosions and fires that occurred on July 6, 1988, aboard the Piper Alpha oil platform off the coast of Scotland. The disaster killed 165 people. Safety case frameworks have since been used in the oil and gas, aviation and nuclear industries.

While at Uber Advanced Technologies Group, Beuse wrote the self-driving industry’s first safety case framework. It came in the wake of a fatal crash in Tempe, Ariz., between an Uber self-driving test vehicle and a pedestrian on March 18, 2018. This year, Aurora acquired Uber ATG, and Beuse brought the same general safety concepts to Aurora, which had been developing its own safety case framework.

Melding the two together was not difficult. But he cautions there is no final document. Rather, the framework is intended to be a structure which promotes ongoing thinking around risks and safety, and that gets updated on a regular basis.

“This is an iterative thing and not a final answer,” Beuse said. “This is kind of our first shot at where we are today. … One thing we are very cognizant of is that we cannot have this just be a checklist. You can’t claim, ‘Go do these five things,’ and you can check a box and say you’re done. Our teams are working very hard to understand these claims and think very deeply about how to support those claims.”

Across the industry, it’s a new way of thinking about establishing safety benchmarks. When considering the risks associated with this new technology, Mark Rosekind, chief of safety innovation at Zoox and former NHTSA administrator, offers a reminder that the state of road safety should be part of the consideration.

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