From the peak of the hype cycle through the depths of disillusionment, the question at the core of the self-driving technology industry remains unchanged: How safe is safe enough?
Most companies have attempted to answer that question with tangible statistics. Number of miles driven. Number of crashes. Rate of disengagements or interventions over number of miles tested. But these metrics have provided, at best, a snapshot glance at safety. At worst, they're a proxy for actual progress.
What constitutes an appropriate level of safety for deployments of self-driving vehicles on public roads is still ambiguous.
Aurora, which announced a planned merger with blank-check company Reinvent Technology Partners in July, has made the latest effort to better define "safe enough." The company released a safety case framework earlier this month which isn’t numbers and statistics, but a structure for explaining how it thinks about safety and risk.
"It's almost like going back to English class and thinking about how you actually make a sentence," said Nat Beuse, Aurora's head of safety. "There's an eerie similarity there. In order to construct a proper sentence, there's a way you have to do it. And for a safety case, I think there's a way you have to do it, too."