Hindsight is 20/20: Aurora’s most impactful moments from a year we won’t forget
Although 2020 was challenging and tumultuous from a global perspective, I am proud of how our team pulled together to have our most impressive year yet.
It’s been more than a month since we all started working from home. And although the world has changed, our focus on delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly has not. Among many things, the current situation has demonstrated the need for self-driving transportation that can move people and goods safely and quickly.
Our company remains in a solid position, with the unwavering support of investors who understand the importance of continuing to make bold, long-term bets. We’re fortunate to be able to employ and pay our existing team members (including our vehicle operators, who are full-time employees), continue hiring incredible people in all disciplines, and advance development on the Aurora Driver. Through ingenuity, dedication, and thoughtful leadership, we’re poised to emerge from this with stronger technology and a more connected team than ever before.
Here’s how we’re accelerating our progress while supporting our remote workforce.
After we closed our physical offices, we worked quickly to focus our efforts on areas where we can make real progress. Aurora’s Virtual Testing Suite, which allows us to conduct millions of off-road tests per day, has always been a crucial part of our approach to testing and development. We’re leveraging those capabilities now more than ever to advance the Aurora Driver’s software, hardware, and maps.
Software: Our vehicle operators have joined forces with our triage and labeling teams to mine our massive collection of manual and autonomous driving data for on-road events that can be turned into virtual tests. Our team is also hard at work expanding the breadth of tests in our Virtual Testing Suite and finding ways to validate new features virtually.
Hardware: We’re using our Hardware in the Loop (HIL) pipeline to test new software on Aurora Driver hardware remotely. These tests ensure that software and hardware are working together, especially in the absence of traditional on-road testing.
Mapping: We continue to build and refine our HD autonomous vehicle map, the Aurora Atlas, in areas where the Aurora Driver will operate when we resume on-road testing. We add new maps to simulations, allowing us to test our software’s ability to navigate these new areas virtually.
We’re using this time to invest in foundational work that will fuel our progress for years to come.
Doubling down on investing in employees: As part of an ongoing commitment to developing talent, we recently hired renowned educator and computer scientist Raul Rojas. He is building out a program of classes designed and taught in-house that build expert-level technical skills in the self-driving domain. You can expect to hear more about this in the future!
Improving Tooling: We continue to build new tools, such as a new web application that will make building simulations easier and faster. We’re also adding enhanced features to our existing tools, many of which will also support the rapid creation of new virtual tests.
With our 480 employees spread across the country — in the Bay Area, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Bozeman, Montana — video conferences and virtual work have always been part of our DNA. But of course, moving to a remote workforce is a shift. To help us stay focused and motivated, I’ve encouraged teams to communicate more frequently and openly. In alignment with our company value “Win Together,” we’ve also been working together to support our local communities as they continue to navigate this pandemic.
Virtual Check-Ins: Since we can’t walk over to colleagues’ desks to update them on our progress, we’ve increased the frequency of virtual check-in meetings across the company. Many of our teams are doing virtual 15-minute daily standups to ensure they’re on the same page, and we’ve encouraged managers to conduct more frequent 1:1s with their direct reports. Of course, balance is key–too many meetings can also be unproductive–but we’ve found that a little extra “face-to-face” communication (albeit virtually) helps.
Company-wide updates: As I recently wrote, our leadership team holds daily office hours and bi-weekly “pit stop” check-ins where we discuss company progress, challenges, and other news with anyone who wants to stop by. These have been incredibly helpful to keep us aligned and also for general morale. We’re also coaching employees about best practices for presenting virtually. For example, they can’t rely on body language or other visual cues to focus the audience’s attention, so it’s critical to call out and explain images, graphs, and other slide elements verbally.
Remote Socializing: We’ve started to capture the spirit of our office culture in new ways. We’re hosting virtual happy hours, celebrating birthdays remotely, and we’ve created a #WFH-diaries Slack channel where teams are sharing productivity hacks and some more lighthearted content around our new “co-workers” (our kids and furry friends).
Community Support: Recognizing that we’re part of a much larger ecosystem, we’ve partnered with organizations to help our communities during this trying time. Aurora donated to the Ravenswood Education Foundation, which provides services to students in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. In Pittsburgh, we helped raise more than $300,000 to provide laptops to students who don’t have the tools they need to learn from home. (If you’re interested, you can donate here: https://beyondthelaptops.org/). We are also donating to the Bozeman Area Community Foundation to support nonprofits that need financial support for remote technical services and laptops to continue providing care to their communities. Individuals at Aurora have also collectively donated more than $100,000 to food banks around our four offices and used their own 3D printers to create personal protective equipment. Our core value “Win Together” extends beyond just Aurora employees, and we’re grateful to be able to support others in these challenging and uncertain times.
Work looks different these days, but we’re more committed to our mission than ever. I’ve been inspired by how our team has quickly mobilized and rallied together as we continue to execute with excellence.