Aurora Voices with Nat Beuse
Nat Beuse is inspired by saving lives. Before coming to Aurora, he oversaw automated-vehicle developments for the Department of Transportation and led the safety team at Uber ATG.
At the heart of Aurora’s technology and mission are the individuals behind it. In our series, Aurora Voices, we share the unique voices and stories of the people of Aurora, celebrating our backgrounds as well as personal and professional experiences.
At Aurora, Sagar helps define and lead Aurora’s efforts to deliver a safe and highly performant Aurora Driver, and directs our approach to safety in on-road testing and safety research. Prior to Aurora, Sagar led safety teams at self-driving car and global automotive companies, and received his Ph.D. in Architectures for Autonomous Driving from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. To get a sense of Aurora’s momentum on this critical work, we asked Sagar about Aurora’s approach to safety and what he likes to do when he’s not working on this life-saving technology—which is nothing short of impressive.
I have always been fascinated by the use of computers to control machines. For me, the ultimate safety challenge lies not in any one part of the technology, but in integrating the end-to-end product safely, efficiently, and continuously. After graduating as a mechanical engineer, I worked for one of India's largest automotive companies. There, I helped ship India's first common rail diesel engine as well as an anti-lock brake system, both of which were controlled by embedded computers.
These experiences motivated me to dig deeper into the theoretical foundations of computation and signal processing and find that connection to end-to-end safety. So, I moved to the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden where I fell in love with AI, Computer Vision, Motion Planning, and Cognitive Robotics—effectively, the intersection of self-driving technology. I then inadvertently became the chief architect of an automated heavy-duty truck, and then developed self-driving technology for OEMs and other AV companies. Along the way, I have become fascinated by how incredibly complex technology becomes a mature product and also wrote my Ph.D. thesis on Architectures, Safety, and Systems Engineering for Autonomous Driving.
Aurora is a remarkable company. The combination of astute and accomplished leaders, outrageous goals, warm and friendly culture, cutting-edge technology, and values that emphasize being reasonable, truly make Aurora one of the best companies to work for. I am working in the area I love the most, at a company that is best positioned to succeed in solving one of the most consequential problems of our time. It feels almost inevitable that the path I have taken has brought me to Aurora and I feel fortunate to be here.
Our four-part approach to safety is critical. It shapes who we hire, who we partner with, and how we design and develop the Aurora Driver. Here’s how I interpret each:
A Safety Case is our answer to questions like, “What does it mean for a self-driving vehicle to be safe?" and "How is the development process at Aurora safe?" At Aurora, we’ve been building and refining a strong Safety Case for some time now, using a combination of existing safety standards and our team’s extensive experience building safety-critical systems in industries ranging from automotive to space.
We use a rigorous process to align around strong safety principles for our system and then adapt that framework to each area where we operate. Only when we’ve accomplished the work outlined in our Safety Case for a given operational domain—which we can think of as roadway types, speed ranges, and environmental conditions like weather, daytime/nighttime, etc.—do we begin driverless operation in that area.
We essentially think through a superset design for both highways and urban areas and create a development roadmap that addresses the differences. For example, highway driving requires identifying and tracking objects at greater distances, so our sensor configurations and coverage map (space around the vehicle where the Aurora Driver must maintain awareness) must be able to meet those requirements. Urban environments typically require different maneuvers–like unprotected left turns–and have lower speeds, narrower lanes, and more complex actors and interactions (think cars weaving around slow-moving people) than highways.
All of this necessitates differences in: 1) how the Aurora Driver safely maneuvers through the environment and 2) the intangible areas of design and development, like hazard and criticality analysis, fault tolerance and response, etc. Similar to how human drivers can adapt dynamically to different situations, we don't have a one-size-fits-all safety strategy at Aurora. We tailor our Safety Case to meet the demands of each operational domain.
Driver assistance is great and will save lives, but it’s a fundamentally different technology than a true self-driving vehicle, like what Aurora is building. ADAS relies on the presence of an alert and able human driver to take over when the system encounters something it can’t handle or something else goes wrong. This human backstop isn’t available for self-driving vehicles. The Aurora Driver we are developing will always be on point and won’t ever have to rely on a human driver to intervene to correct the vehicle’s decision. Ultimately, the Aurora Driver will operate far more safely than a human driver, in a wide range of scenarios, with absolutely zero reliance on onboard human supervision.
Instead of pursuing one or two hobbies exclusively, I like to have many hobbies. In many ways, I am an amateur who dabbles in many fields and I truly enjoy the experience of learning and realizing almost anything is interesting, depending on how you look at it. At one time or the other in the past, I’ve:
And one last thing: it was after I imagined how I’d build a self-driving car from scratch, put my idea to paper, and actually built it, that I found my way to Silicon Valley—and the rest is history.
If you just felt inspired by what you read, we’re hiring in all disciplines to help us solve one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Check out our careers page to see open positions and learn more about what it’s like to work at Aurora.