Aurora's manifesto is worth a read
I rarely just link to another story, but today I will point all to Aurora's post on its development philosophy. I think it contains some important lessons for all in the field.
It won't surprise readers to know I agree with pretty much this whole document, having said many of these things myself and also having learned some of them from or along with Aurora CEO Chris Urmson while at Chauffeur (Google/Waymo).
Aurora has already had stellar success. They have been funded to a high level, have done partnerships with several major OEMs, and even turned down "unicorn" level acquisition offers, something ridiculous for such a young company.
The path to this is now clear. Waymo has a serious lead over everybody, including Aurora. And the other players are learning that, but they know that Waymo isn't particularly keen to partner with them in any way they would like, preferring to take a shot at the brass ring -- as they should.
This leaves the larger players very interested in partnering with the man who ran Waymo's engineering efforts (and several other credits.) It's the clearest path to catching up. And Aurora is happy to be a partner and deal with any good partner, to be the neutral Switzerland and not threaten to compete head to head. (At least for now.)
All the big players know that they want to be the party to own the customer. The one who sells you the ride, or the whole car. The one who gets the money and then decides how to distribute it to all the suppliers. It's the seat you want to have. But being the best supplier of secret sauce who is willing to deal is a pretty good seat -- a fantastic seat for a brand new company with no skin yet in the game.
Cruise, if spun off from GM, might try for that seat as well. So will a few Tier 1 suppliers. Uber and Lyft may even offer their software stack for free but with a big catch -- you must exclusively be in their ride network, and let them own the customer.
Strap in, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Some key elements of the advice are below, and I've written articles on many of these concepts, but you should read the original post
- This is the modern version of rocket science, it needs exceptional skill
- The idea of incremental "levels" is broken, but you can still develop incrementally by going after bigger and bigger segments of the grand problem of driving everywhere.
- Test heavily in sim before the road. (This is not something Waymo or anybody did extensively in the earliest days, but times have changed.)
- Go for the big, revolutionary approach and prototype it quickly. Don't try to build a ladder to the moon.
- Be measured in how you use machine learning. Rely on existing tools and give them the best (not the most) training data. Design to use it from the start.
- It's foolish today to try and do it all with one, or even two sensors. Get all the independent information you can (LIDAR, radar, vision) to get as safe as you can, quickly. Later try to make it cheap by cutting out sensors.
- Combine machine learning with the best of robotics engineering; don't imagine it will work end-to-end.