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Minds of Motional: Arthur Safira

February 06, 2024 Minds of Motional
Arthur Safira

Photo of Arthur and his partner. 

We're highlighting the people who are using their talents and passions to help make driverless vehicles a reality. Our team is driven by something more.

Arthur Safira, a Senior Engineering Director at Motional, discusses his background, what attracted him to AVs and his work at Motional, and his mission to make a positive, large-scale societal impact with technology.

Tell us a bit about your background

I grew up in New Jersey as a first generation immigrant along with my sister, Ariela. I have a fairly intense technical background, having graduated from Princeton with highest honors in physics and then from Harvard with a PhD in physics. In the most recent spider-man (“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”), Miles Morales (Spider-man) wants to attend Princeton with a focus on Quantum Physics — it was so cool to hear that! That’s what I did! Haha.

After my PhD, I joined Waymo as a Technologist, where I worked on their next-generation lidar sensors, as well as improved the vehicle’s performance in poor weather conditions. While there, I actually also consulted for teams at GoogleX, Google’s research lab, for some efforts that later spun out as SandboxAQ (fun fact; some of the code I wrote in grad school is what they used in their early work!). Later, I joined Motional as a systems architect for the Perception team, and then later grew into leading the Systems Engineering team.

Describe your role at Motional - what do you do?

I lead the systems engineering team, where we work to gain the confidence in our engineering that we need in order to expand our autonomous vehicle capability. We ensure the function and safety of our vehicle through rigorous testing and analyses to ensure our vehicles are ready for each next step we take in expanding our technology.

Why did you choose to work on driverless technology?

One of my big goals in life is to make a positive, large-scale societal impact with technology. That’s actually why I was deeply involved in Quantum Computing research through most of my undergraduate and graduate career: I thought it might be my calling to take something that requires such an intense technical background and help mature it into something that improves our well being. However, near the end of my PhD, I felt that progress in creating a quantum computer was painfully slow; slow enough that I would need to easily devote another 10 years of my life before having a better idea of how much it would impact the world. 

And that’s where driverless technology comes in! Around the time I was looking to make a big change in career focus. I set my eyes on self-driving vehicles or medical devices, and…the rest is history!

What excites you most about working on Motional’s engineering team?

We have a great group of folk who are clearly motivated by our vision. We have the privilege of working on such a cool technology as-is, but it’s especially motivating to work alongside folk who – on a very deep level – are here to make that vision a reality. The people I work with on a daily basis are exactly those types of folk. 

What are some of your favorite/most impactful projects you’ve worked on at Motional

  1. Leading our Systems team! I've had the opportunity to help inform the direction of the team, and work with very talented colleagues.
  2. Shaping our Validation and Verification (V&V) program to meet the needs of our driverless operation and our partners' requirements.

What’s a fun fact about yourself that people would be surprised to hear?

I was once in the top 1% of Valorant players.

How do you define success?

My personal definition of success is a lofty one: to see our autonomous vehicles turn into a real product more and more people are able to use. I do sometimes wish I picked something a little simpler, but ultimately it’s what drives me every day.

What advice would you give prospective engineers?

I am going to tailor my advice specifically towards folk interested in becoming systems engineers, to which I would give two pieces of advice: 

  1. Some of the most successful systems engineers within autonomous vehicles are ones that never stopped learning. While there are a ton of systems engineering fundamentals we rely on (and continue integrating!), it is also much more difficult to meet the expectations of a systems engineer if you don’t have a good technical understanding of the subsystems and engineering disciplines your work is tied to (whether that be production infrastructure software systems, robotics algorithms, etc.). In a lot of cases, that’s not an easy skill to pick up at school, but we encourage folk to integrate with development teams and grow more technical expertise while here — whether that’s systems engineering fundamentals or otherwise.
  2. Use go-links! :)