Taking the High Road
Her mission: Keeping us safe as self-driving delivery vehicles take off
by Matt Hughes
Move fast and break things isn’t a good motto when people’s lives are at risk. As the head of safety for Nuro, the first company to deploy driverless delivery vehicles on public streets, Jennifer Bower Dawson ’03 is charged with protecting the public welfare as this revolutionary technology takes to American roadways.

“Silicon Valley has a reputation for being cavalier in the way they deploy things — it’s, ‘Go be disruptive, go change the world, and ask questions later,’ ” Dawson says. “I railed against that from the sidelines, and as self-driving technology was hitting the roads I felt a moral responsibility to get involved.”

Headshot Jennifer Bower Dawson
Photo: Emily Paine
Jennifer Bower Dawson ’03 looks at the ethics underlying tech development.
In 2018, Dawson’s company began making home deliveries for the Kroger grocery chain in Scottsdale, Ariz., using autonomous electric vehicles resembling narrow, enclosed golf carts. Dawson says autonomous vehicles like Nuro’s have incredible promise to improve our lives, “but it’s only going to be realized if we deploy in a safe way.”

Dawson’s awareness of the ethical side of tech development began at Bucknell, where considering the societal implications of her work was intrinsic to every course in her mechanical engineering major. Today, she’s also taking on another of the tech industry’s moral gremlins — the uphill battle faced by women in male-dominated Silicon Valley. When she speaks with engineering students, Dawson doesn’t just aim to give women a toolkit for survival. She also emphasizes the role male allies can play in helping women stick with the industry.

“In nearly 20 years of professional engineering, I’ve never had a male colleague ask what life is like for us and what he can do to help make it a little bit easier,” she says. “My advice is to be open to those conversations, ask questions and be empathetic.”