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How experiences shape our view of safety at Torc

on July 1, 2020

The strength of Torc’s winning teams comes in part from the diverse individual contributions from each team member. A variety of backgrounds, life experiences, and viewpoints can contribute to a wealth of perspectives on the importance of safety. 

In Part 1 of our National Safety Month blog highlight, we outlined how Torc’rs view safety as a metric for success, and the importance of how the seemingly mundane tasks and procedures contribute to our overall goal. 

Here, our team members take us beyond day-to-day operations and unveil the broader life experiences, moments of clarity, and lessons learned that formed their approach to safety. 

Understanding the gravity of safety 

Many Torc’rs are guided by the understanding of the deep importance that our everyday decisions hold, and the gravity of their impact on others.  

Denise Thompson Harmon, Department Manager in Behaviors, Planning & Controls 

I come from many years in various safety-driven industries where people’s lives are at stake every day. So, you have to ensure you’re not becoming complacent. We want to ensure we are keeping that notion in the forefront of everything we are doing because we have people’s lives in our hands.  

My father was a fire chief and a fire marshal. I just grew up with that culture of saving lives. But I have also seen a lot. I’ve seen situations where lives have been lost because of individual choices such as not changing the battery in a smoke detector. Something as simple as that can impact other people’s lives. When I graduated college with a degree in computer science, I started working on these very intensive systems with various levels of automation. When you take the human out of the loop, you have to ensure that the system reacts in a safe manner. 

One of the reasons I came to Torc is because I appreciated their mission. It’s right there on the front door: saving lives. It’s important to remember that we have that purpose, that we have a goal, that we are here because we want to bring this technology to the world to help save lives and make lives better for others. Just from what I have seen in my life – just some of the terrible things I’ve witnessed – those just help instill that. I also come from the Marine industry and I remember incidents that have happened with ships running aground and crew members not surviving. Those were eye opening. Now, coming to Torc and applying that to the automotive and truck industry – those experiences really help me stay grounded and focus on what matters.

Myra Blanco, Daimler Torc Senior Technical Fellow 

Myra Blanco sitting in the cab of a tractor trailerMy dad was a mechanic, so I grew up learning about cars. I started in my undergrad in mechanical engineering because I still had that passion for vehicles. I was even part of a collegiate car racing team. I think that’s why I like Torc because that’s how they got started. People at Torc understand the passion behind making a vehicle work for a competition and crossing the finish line. 

During my undergrad work, it was more important for our team to make the vehicle work than the concern of how safe it was going to be. But when I got the news that my favorite high school teacher passed away in a car crash, that changed my perspective of what was important moving forward. At the time, I was deciding where to go for grad school, so I decided to switch my focus to human factors and transportation safety. I went from making a car move as fast as possible to focusing on what I could contribute to make sure people are safe in a vehicle. 

I think it is very hard for people to understand the importance of safety until they are personally touched by something tragic. But at the same time, I hope that I can encourage the switch from simply making things go fast or making operations more efficient to thinking about how to save lives with this technology.

What I try to do in my current task is to not think just about the now, but to think about the consequences of what we are implementing that will affect us in the future. I spend a lot of my time looking for potential situations that can go wrong. It sounds paranoid, but I look at all the “what ifs.” I prefer to be proactive than reactive. By looking at the “what ifs” of all potential situations – which is called a risk assessment in a technical sense – my team is able to think ahead and figure out how to mitigate certain incidents. Or, if we determine that a situation could happen, we explore how to reduce the magnitude of that potential situation.

Kyle Lansing, Operational Safety Engineer  

I didn’t get exposed to the operational safety side of the autonomous vehicle industry until I came to Torc. However, on day one I fully understood the gravity of what we are doing here. The sense of deep responsibility when it comes to owning a decision that could affect others’ lives was instilled in me during my time in the military.

In the defense space, you must be careful with your words and your approach tasks. You must be prepared to fully understand the consequences of the subsequent actions. You have to own your decisions, and oftentimes lives are on the line. At Torc, when training others about the autonomous vehicles, I try to instill that same sense of responsibility – if something goes wrong, the consequences are on us.

Honest Reflection and lessons learned

Here at Torc, we are constantly learning and improving on our processes. This method of honest reflection and improvement is not only demonstrated in our official after-actions, but also encouraged for individuals. 

Ruel Faruque, Sr. Operational Safety Engineer

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and try to view each experience as a learning opportunity. It is essential to have an honest retrospective to identify what went well, what could have gone better, and what should change in the future. A willingness to entertain honest constructive criticism to safety policies and testing protocols allows the team to better balance safety and business objectives, while also strengthening safety.

Almost the entire book “Engineering a Safer World” by Nancy Leveson has inspired my approach to safety.  Safety control structures should be treated as control systems.  Feedback is essential to a control system.  For example, without a temperature sensor, your car’s climate control doesn’t know whether to blow hot or cold air out the vents.

Saving Lives

Our mission of saving lives remains the core motivator for decisions made all the way from the top business level to everyday tasks. The collective experience and drive of every single person here at Torc helps make our goal of commercializing self-driving vehicles possible. Our goal is not just for one industry, it is for society: to enhance the lives of everyone on the road and help them reach their destination safely.  

Jim DudleyHow experiences shape our view of safety at Torc

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