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Chris_Urmson45 karma

Reid: I wrote my masters thesis at Oxford on philosophical thought experiments. The method can lead to lots of philosophical mistakes. Most centrally: are those two options really the only 2 options? Is there another 3rd option? Here, the key is to develop autonomous driving to be so much safer than human driving that even when an AV encounters difficult choices on A vs. B (which human beings have to do as well), that we are far better off with autonomous drivers on the road. It’s hard to give good depth to this answer, because philosophers have literally written tomes on trolley problem variations.

Chris: So the trolley problem is a philosophical question… Philosophers have wrestled with this problem for centuries. It's really, what do we as a society together believe is the right thing to do? The good thing is that self-driving cars should be and will be much more alert. They're going to be better defensive drivers, so it should rarely happen. I don't know if in your lifetime you've ever had to pick between crashing into one thing or another. I haven’t. But the promise of self driving and their safety benefits is incredible. And something that motivates me to keep working on it.

Chris_Urmson14 karma

Chris: We actually have a great blog post that talks about our approach to building our HD maps, Aurora Atlas.

In short, our approach with the Aurora Atlas is to address exactly this scaling problem. We do this by sharding our maps, and emphasizing local consistency over global accuracy. This makes our maps much more maintainable. We leverage the same vehicles that are being driven by the Aurora Driver to gather the data to update the map. This means that as we go to production, we will be able to efficiently gather the data we need, and to keep the map accurate and up-to-date in near real-time.

Chris_Urmson14 karma

Chris: Hey it’s Chris. We’ve seen incredible progress in the development of self-driving technology. Widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles is going to take time -- I think you’ll see autonomous trucks on the road in the next couple of years. In fact, at Aurora we have self-driving trucks on the road in Texas and just last week we started autonomously hauling freight for FedEx in Texas. After we bring our freight product to market you’ll see our autonomous passenger vehicles on ride-hailing networks. Right now you can ride in an autonomous vehicle in Phoenix… and you’ll see more vehicles in more cities over the coming years. So, self-driving vehicles are here. It’s just going to take some time for them to be so common you see them in every city or every highway.

As we have more autonomous vehicles on the road, I hope they can become the norm. Their benefits are profound! Every incremental step we can take towards making our roads more safe is a win.

Reid: Hey, Reid here. Also, Chris is his generally understated self. In addition to the great progress at Aurora, he is also one of the few people in the world who has already made autonomy work, when he was leading the project at Google.

Chris_Urmson13 karma

Chris: Really appreciate the question. When we think about why we do what we do one of our motivating factors is really to expand accessibility for those who don’t find that the current transportation system works for them. We actively solicit feedback and engage in conversations with disability groups and other industry partners.

We haven’t yet deeply engaged with the NFB at Aurora, though I did engage with several accessibility groups, including NFB, at my previous job. For the first few years of Aurora, we’ve been focused on building the core technology. Our first product will be in trucking, but as we turn our attention to our second product in ride-hailing, we’ll be sure to engage these groups. As your point about designing for (rather than remediating) is spot on.

Related: We also engage more broadly in regards to educating public groups who will benefit from this tech – for example, groups like AARP, which we hosted for a visit to our office in Pittsburgh.

Chris_Urmson10 karma

Reid: I wrote about this a few years back for Time Magazine. In the past, when major technology shifts occurred, the new machines made many jobs obsolete—but they created even more new ones. In at least some cases that’s happening now too. The innovation and adaptability that have always made us human are still there too. We have the opportunity to reinvent work again with technologies like robots, self-driving vehicles, etc — and forge a new set of jobs through entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

I think that autonomous vehicles are a near certainty – and depending on the pacing and timing of that, that will cause kind of a mini “agrarian to industrial revolution” that will cause people who are currently in a certain set of jobs to feel displaced. As a society, we need to help that, we need to make sure they have safety nets, and that these people have the best possible paths to other kinds of jobs. But on the other hand, I think technology like autonomy will create a whole bunch of new jobs.

And I believe autonomy is essential because of the potential to save lives, to facilitate efficiency of road use (climate impact mitigation, make better use of existing infrastructure vs needing to build lots more, reduce gridlock), and to create significant economic productivity.

Chris: I think the status quo is not really acceptable. It’s easy to forget that in the US 40k people die every year in traffic accidents (1.25m globally). It’s easy to forget that in the US alone, we’re short 60k truck drivers, and expect to be short 160k by the end of the decade. We forget that transportation is a limit on economic opportunity and is the second or third largest expense in people’s life. I think self-driving technology is really the only path to helping address these challenges. It’s definitely not easy, and the goal is not to replace people. Initially we expect self-driving vehicles to operate alongside human drivers.

As we’ve spent more time talking to Carriers and private fleet operators, what I hear consistently is that they don’t want to replace the human drivers they have, they just can’t get enough drivers to scale and operate their businesses. Job stability is important. But we’re also seeing another reality emerge, which is that the industry is having a hard time retaining drivers. In fact, among large truck companies, annual turnover rates for long-haul drivers are over 90%. For smaller companies, things aren’t much better at 72% annual turnover.

We’re optimistic about the economic impacts AVs will have and encouraged by recent research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which shows the industry will create jobs and spur billions in U.S. economic growth.

There’s no doubt that some people will lose their jobs, as automated vehicles become more common, and as a society, we need to grapple with this, and help these people transition to new jobs - the broad benefit to society of this technology is too large for us to not embrace it.