NASA safety expert joins Torc Robotics self-driving truck team

(Blacksburg, Va.) Former NASA safety engineering executive John Marinaro has joined Torc Robotics, the leader in self-driving trucking, as director of operational safety and testing — and member of the executive team. In this role, Marinaro has oversight and risk management responsibilities for Torc’s self-driving vehicle testing operations as well as corporate safety policies, procedures and auditing.

“We are very excited to have John join our team and lead our safety programs,” said Michael Fleming, Torc’s CEO. “Our mission is saving lives through self-driving technology, and safety is a key driver of our operations. NASA-level safety is required to commercialize self-driving trucks and we look forward to John applying skills and expertise gained in other pioneering organizations.”

Marinaro served as director of safety engineering technical excellence at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Safety Center. He was appointed to his position at the NASA Safety Center in 2009, after serving as the director of the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel during Space Shuttle Return-to-Flight following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

“I carry that experience with me,” said Marinaro. It changed the course of his career, shifted his professional priorities, and set the standards by which he analyzes risk: “Test smartly and safely – Don’t hurt others. Don’t hurt ourselves. Don’t hurt our equipment.”

Marinaro intends to bring those standards and experiences to bear on his role with Torc’s senior executive team.

“Torc is doing a good job already,” said Marinaro. “I want to embrace their safety analysis procedures and make them more formal and structured as the company grows and the technology advances.”

How does he plan to achieve this for a new technology? By pulling in and improving the best risk management practices from multiple industries and focusing on structured and formal safety engineering.

“Engineers, by nature, like to create everything themselves, but we shouldn’t need to learn lessons that others have already mastered,” explained Marinaro. “If we can adopt and improve someone else’s best practices, we’ll get a lot farther a lot faster,” he said.

Risk is inevitable, Marinaro pointed out, especially when it comes to technology that has the potential to change the world: “There’s going to be inherent risk. We have to understand it, bind it, mitigate it, and operate within its constraints.”

The biggest challenges in operational safety are always the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns, said Marinaro.

“Our job is to anticipate when the system will operate unexpectedly, to understand why, and to make sure we’ve done enough before we put our self-driving technology on the road.”