CEO Chris Urmson Says Aurora Is 'Building the Driver' for Driverless Cars

January 9, 2019

By Carlo Versano

The Consumer Electronics Show, the birthplace of such game-changing tech products as the camcorder, which debuted in 1981, or the tablet as recently as 2010, more closely resembles a futuristic auto-show these days. At this stage, self-driving car technology has become the real reason to visit the Vegas trade event.

Among the attendees at this year's CES was Aurora, a startup building autonomous driving technology, backed by some of the top talent in the field.

Aurora CEO Chris Urmson, who co-founded the company with a former Tesla ($TSLA) engineer and robotics expert, told Cheddar's Hope King that Aurora was "building the driver" for driverless cars.

That means engineering the software, sensors, and data services that will allow autonomous vehicles to travel from point A to point B efficiently and safely.

Autonomous cars "will ultimately be the world's safest driver," said Urmson, who was previously the CTO for Google's Waymo unit. But first, he said, they must have the technology to understand the world around them, anticipate what's happening next, and then navigate through it. That involves building mapping technology that will eventually allow a car to navigate a new city with the same, or better, "knowledge" that drivers have of the streets of their hometowns.

LiDAR, which uses lasers to plot distances and make 3D replicas of surroundings, is critical to this mapping but remains among the biggest cost barriers for self-driving technology. Urmson told Cheddar he believes LiDAR prices, which are tied to commodities and "nothing magical," will drop as scale is achieved.

Safety is ultimately a statistics game, Urmson said: "You want the rate at which bad things happen to be really low."

But it's also highly susceptible to the public's perception, which is why Urmson also came to CES ー to help announce PAVE, a new coalition of experts and institutions that will work to educate the public about what many tech evangelists believe will likely be among the most important technological advances in modern history.

Urmson said, which has been focused on the dangers of autonomy rather than the huge potential benefits, in his view. There's also confusion as to what true autonomy really meansー where passengers can "lean back and have a nap" ー versus driver assistance software like Tesla's Autopilot, which PAVE will work to explain.

Urmson believes the public conversation has been focused too heavily on the dangers of autonomy rather than the huge potential benefits, in his view. There's also confusion as to what true autonomy really meansー where passengers can "lean back and have a nap" ー versus driver assistance software like Tesla's Autopilot, which PAVE will work to explain.

"We're trying to help clear up the dialogue."

For full interview click here.