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Building a safe automated trucking product: a different kind of Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment

Oct 10, 2019 · 5 min read

A year ago we unveiled Ike and shared our unique perspective on how to build safe, reliable, and commercially-valuable automated trucking technology that works for people. Since then, we’ve made a lot of progress, though we’ve mostly kept it to ourselves. Earlier this year we shared some of the lessons our team has learned over decades of working on safety-critical technologies. Of everything we’ve done in Ike’s short existence, we are most proud of having stayed true to our principles of thinking long term and putting safety first.

What we’re doing at Ike has never been done before, and it’s hard. The technical challenge alone is enormous, and though we’re proud of the talented team we’ve built so far, there is a lot more work to do. But that’s not the biggest challenge — the hardest part is resisting short term temptations in favor of real long term progress.

With so much excitement around the potential of automated vehicles, there’s massive competition in our industry for resources, talent, and attention. Companies need to tell a compelling story, demonstrate visible progress, and stand out from the many other impressive teams working on these products. In our hard earned experience, that pressure can lead to problematic incentives — to rush, cut corners, and take risks. In previous roles we have fallen into the trap of optimizing for the short term and creating technical debt that slows us down over the long term. At Ike, we work incredibly hard to resist the temptation of short term reward, even when it means doing difficult, inconvenient, and less visible work in the service of long term progress. Our choices at Ike have taken us down a unique path, and we’re now ready to share more about where we’re headed.

Safety is one of Ike’s core values, and we’ve said that you should judge us by our actions. Today we’re stepping up to that commitment by releasing an unprecedented level of detail and transparency about our approach to product development, engineering, and operations. We are releasing these details because we believe that the public has a right to know as much as possible about what we’re doing, especially because our vehicles share the road with our friends, neighbors, and our own families.

The information we are sharing today doesn’t fit into the usual playbook for automated vehicles. We’re investing heavily in the things that we believe put Ike on the fastest path to a commercial product at scale. And we’re committed to the choices that maximize safety, even when it doesn’t fit the typical narrative.

One great example: to date, we have deliberately chosen not to engage our automation system on public roads. We’ve made this choice for two reasons: first, our systems-based development process and unique technology advantage mean we can make rapid progress without public road testing; and second, we hold ourselves to an incredibly high bar for system performance before we engage our system on the highway.

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Instead, we’ve been building a high performance automation stack by collecting data we can feed into our powerful simulation infrastructure, and testing our prototypes on private tracks where we can control the environment and take much less risk.

We believe this makes Ike the only company to have released a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment before operating on public roads. Included in this release are other disclosures that we think are important for the public to know about any automated vehicle development effort, including:

  • A complete inventory of our prototype development vehicles, including identifying information
  • A map of the specific roadways where our fleet operates
  • A summary of our motor carrier compliance and safety record as recorded by the US Department of Transportation and various law enforcement agencies

Finally, we are also releasing a detailed Safety Report that describes our systems engineering-based approach to building a product. We have adopted a methodology developed at MIT called Systems Theoretic Process Analysis (STPA) as the foundation for Ike’s product development. STPA has been used extensively in complex, safety critical industries like aerospace and nuclear power, and it is a powerful tool to address some of the most difficult parts of developing — and validating — a safe, reliable automation product. A more comprehensive introduction to STPA and its application to Ike has been written by Dr. John Thomas of MIT.

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Some of what we describe in our Safety Report might be considered proprietary for a different kind of company, but we believe transparency and open discussion will help raise the bar for everyone and ultimately decrease unnecessary risk taking. We welcome input on our approach. Comments and questions can be directed to All of the information we are releasing today will be kept up to date on a regular basis, including the Safety Report.

If you found your way here because you saw an Ike-branded truck on the road, we hope this gives you more confidence in our commitment to safety. If you work in complex systems and find our approach compelling, we’d love to have a chance to work with you — we’re hiring for many roles.

There’s a long journey ahead, and we’re more excited than ever about the potential for automation to help make the trucking industry better. We’ll be working hard to turn that potential into reality, and to do it in a way that we can be proud of.

Ike Blog

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