Aurora Releases Framework to Test the Safety of Self-driving Cars and Trucks

Aurora, a Silicon Valley startup founded by former Uber, Google, and Tesla executives, has released what it claims to be an industry-first tool for evaluating the safety of autonomous vehicles. In their view, the tool will allow developers to gauge the efficiency of their self-driving vehicles in various situations.
Aurora's fleet of self-driving vehicles 6 photos
Photo: Aurora
Waymo Chrysler Pacifica HybridWaymo Chrysler Pacifica HybridWaymo Chrysler Pacifica HybridWaymo Chrysler Pacifica HybridWaymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
The term "tool" is a simplified explanation of what Aurora has released, which is a Safety Case Framework. The latter is developed with, but not limited to, best practices from safety-critical industries, government guidance, voluntary industry standards, and academic research.

You can think of it as a flowchart that splits into hundreds of boxes, and a self-driving vehicle must pass each to be declared safe. Aurora explains that its tool is industry-first because it is both for trucks and passenger cars.

Regardless, the first version that was released is just a first step in this framework, as Aurora plans to expand it to new environments, scenarios, and platforms.

Aurora is already working on a system that enables self-driving capabilities for passenger cars and trucks. They called it the Aurora Driver, and it will be based on this framework.

Aurora claims the top four levels of the framework are already shared across the industry because the company is confident in its progress. The five pillars of the framework are as follows: Proficient, Fail-Safe, Continuously Improving, Resilient, and Trustworthy.

The first pillar is focused on assessing if the self-driving vehicle is "acceptably safe" during nominal operation. The second pillar gauges if the same level of safety is achieved if faults and failures occur.

Meanwhile, the third pillar of the framework is focused on eliminating previous errors, if risks are evaluated, and how those issues are resolved to prevent them from being repeated.

Moving on to the fourth pillar, which targets foreseeable misuse and unavoidable events. The target is also an acceptable level of safety in all those situations. The last pillar's purpose is to determine if the enterprise is trustworthy.

Time will tell if this framework is enough or just the first step in developing an assessment method to gauge the safety of autonomous vehicles. As Aurora points out, trustworthiness is the last step, and what the framework cannot figure out is what it would take for humans to trust self-driving vehicles.
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Editor's note: Photo gallery shows Chrysler Pacifica models operated by Waymo, Google's self-driving car division, for illustration purposes.

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About the author: Sebastian Toma
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Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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