Grayson Brulte

Grayson Brulte

@gbrulte | @gbrulte

Grayson Brulte is an Innovation Strategist and Co-Founder of Brulte & Company.

In addition, he is the Host of The Road To Autonomy Podcast and Host of the SAE International Tomorrow Today Podcast.

He formerly served as the Co-Chair of the City of Beverly Hills Mayor's Autonomous Vehicle Task Force and was an active member of the city’s Smart City / Technology Committee which advises the Beverly Hills City Council on technology. In 2015, the City of Beverly Hills was chosen by Google as one of America’s digital capitals.

Along with his Beverly Hills guidance, Grayson was appointed a Global Health Economics Fellow at The University of Vermont College of Medicine.

From Autonomous Vehicles to politics, to the future of entertainment and more, Grayson has written articles about innovation, technology, and strategy for Continental’s 2025AD, General Electric Reports, the MIT Sloan Executive Education [email protected] Blog, RealClear Future, Futurism, VentureBeat and The Washington Times among others.

His written opinions and insights have been used by organizations such as the Consumer Electronics Association in presentations to the Federal Trade Commission.

Grayson has spoken in front of numerous audiences, including the FLDOT’s Florida Automated Vehicles Summit, New York International Auto Show, Princeton SmartDrivingCars, Consumer Telematics Show, XII Metropolis World Congress, TU-Automotive Detroit and Autonomous Vehicles Silicon Valley.

His comments have appeared in numerous publications, including The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The International Business Times, The Telegraph, Automotive News, Axios, Bloomberg, Forbes and The Hollywood Reporter.

For speaking engagements, editorials and media enquiries please email [email protected].

Shangri-La of Mobility: Robotaxis

Alvaro Ramis, VP of Business Development and Alliances, Bestmile joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why robotaxis are the Shangri-La of mobility.

The conversation begins with Alvaro talking about his career which started in banking and later the travel industry, before joining the mobility industry. Throughout his career, Alvaro has always had a focus on innovation.

My background is someone who feels extremely comfortable with uncertainty.

– Alvaro Ramis

Staying on the theme of being extremely comfortable with uncertainty, Alvaro joined Car2Go in 2014 as Chief Marketing Officer. When he first tried a free-floating car-share service, Alvaro thought the following:

It was that moment when I opened that car with my app that the lights turned on. I walked into the vehicle and the panel told me hello with my name. I was like man, this is the future. I fell in love.

– Alvaro Ramis

Bringing this conversation full circle, Grayson asks Alvaro about the current state of free-floating car sharing. The market is stagnating due to competition from Uber and Lyft and the inherent asset-heavy business model.

Staying on the topic of asset-heavy business models, Grayson and Alvaro discuss who is going to own the autonomous vehicles on their balance sheet. Will it be the banks? Will it be rental car companies?

Alvaro go into discussing who will “go to school” to learn the model of asset-heavy mobility as the industry and venture capital firms continue to focus on asset-light companies. Without the asset, there is no mobility service.

The future of mobility is about electric, shared, and autonomous.

– Alvaro Ramis

While the future may be electric, shared, and autonomous, it has to be profitable. As autonomous mobility companies continue to focus on the robotaxi business, they are starting to diversify into trucking as there is a clear path to revenue and profitability.

Waymo has their Waymo Via service which is focused on the delivery of goods and Aurora is now expanding into self-driving trucks. Both Waymo and Aurora were solely focused on the robotaxi market until the path to revenue and profitability was marginalized for the short-term.

The end game is the robotaxi. That is the big prize. That is the Shangri-La of mobility. It’s the biggest market by a lot.

– Alvaro Ramis

Is there a path to profitability in the robotaxi business? With highly indebted businesses, Alvaro makes the comparison to the telecommunications industry.

Grayson agrees with the comparison, but he states the case that the robotaxi business will not spit-off nearly as much cash as the AT&Ts and Verizons of the world. Robotaxi companies will not be able to pay a 4%+ dividend.

However, the Beeps and Voyages of the world which operate in controlled environments with captive audiences will be able to generate large amounts of cash and eventually become extremely profitable.

Once you have an enclosed environment, you can add more services around it. Also, you are not fighting for that customer in a similar environment that you would have in a traditional ride-hailing market where you would have to buy the supply and demand which is a race to the bottom.

– Alvaro Ramis

Autonomous vehicle companies operating in these environments will not face the same customer acquisition costs as the robotaxi business.

However, a majority of autonomous vehicle start-up founders are still attracted to Shangri-La, while Oliver Cameron, CEO of Voyage is instead focused on the riches in niches business model.

Building upon the business model conversation, Grayson asks Alvaro about the current state of autonomy in Europe. Europe is behind the United States in terms of funding, deployments, partnerships, and legislation.

To operate an SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicle in Europe today, companies have to apply for an exemption. This process is cumbersome and challenging with national security issues playing a large role.

National Security is a huge issue for the deployment of autonomous vehicles. Grayson and Alvaro go on to have an in-depth conversation about national security and what has to be done to ensure that remote operations of AVs are secure.

You cannot allow artificial intelligence or autonomous vehicles to decide where to go when a terrorist attack happens in a city.

– Alvaro Ramis

The issue of terrorism and the potential of a terrorist attack is very real and it is an issue that the autonomous vehicle industry needs to plan for as they build out their remote operations. As part of VW’s autonomous vehicle deployment for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the Government required remote operations in case of a potential incident.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson and Alvaro discuss the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles in China.

Shangri-La is not technology per se, its the problems that it solves.

– Alvaro Ramis

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American Success Story: AutonomouStuff

Bobby Hambrick, Founder & CEO, AutonomouStuff and Chief Autonomous Officer, Hexagon joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the founding of AutonomouStuff, the acquisition by Hexagon and why AutonomouStuff is an American success story.

The conversation begins with Bobby telling the story of how he founded AutonomouStuff in a barn in his backyard and eventually sold his house and rental properties to scale the company.

I was born with this natural innate motivation and this drive to succeed. I have always taken this fearless approach to accomplish whatever task I had on hand.

– Bobby Hambrick

As the company grew, Bobby reinvested every dollar that the company made back into the company to help it grow. He grew the company without venture capital as he invested in himself and his company. Every month Bobby operated the company it was was profitable.

The conversation naturally evolves into SPACs and why companies are going public with little to no revenue and zero profitability. Grayson and Bobby discuss the importance of operating a business that is profitable.

Building upon this, Bobby shares an insightful story from when he was interviewing an engineer who did not know how to use tools. This opened his eyes in a meaningful way.

Hard work and common sense can get you a long way. To be a successful entrepreneur, being smart is not enough. You have to be able to understand how things work and even more important is the power of the relationships that you have.

– Bobby Hambrick

The ethic of hard work was ingrained into Bobby during his time growing up in the Midwest. The Midwest historically has had a reputation of hard work. Understanding this, Bobby founded and scaled the company in Morton, Illinois.

As Bobby was contemplating selling the company to Hexagon he thought about the following:

If I am going to sell to a larger company, I want to take care of the people who helped me. They are like family to me.

– Bobby Hambrick

As part of the transaction, there was a clause that AutonomouStuff would stay in Morton for good. The impact that AutonomouStuff has had on the town of Morton cannot be measured. It is felt at the dinner table when employees discuss building the future and their travels around the world.

CES 2020 was one of those moments when it all came together when Hexagon showcased AutonomouStuff right next to the Google installation. Bobby goes on to explain that is merely just the beginning for AutonomouStuff. With the resources of Hexagon, the future is extremely bright for AutonomouStuff.

While the future is bright for AutonomouStuff, the rest of the industry is going through growing pains.

This is marathon This is not a sprint to whoever can show the best concept of driving around in the urban area. This is a serious business, people are spending billions of dollars and now they are realizing that it is not that easy.

This is probably one of the biggest engineering challenges of mankind.

– Bobby Hambrick

Closing out the conversation, Bobby shares his advice for entrepreneurs who want to start their own business while staying true to their roots.

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Insurance Markets and the Digital Economy

Jillian Slyfield, Digital Economy Practice Leader, Aon joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the current state of the insurance markets and the digital economy.

The conversation begins with Jillian sharing a high-level overview of Aon and the current state of the insurance markets.

It’s the hardest market that we have seen in 25 years.

– Jillian Slyfield

With a hard market comes reduced capacity in the marketplace which leads to increased pricing for renewals.

The markets are hardening with anywhere from 25-40 %, sometimes, even more, delivering at times a 70% year-over-year increase in costs.

– Jillian Slyfield

The hardening markets are not just leading to price increases for companies, insurance companies are also reducing their capacity. Aon is working with it’s clients to ensure that they are prepared for the current state of the insurance markets.

The current state of the insurance markets conversation evolves into one about being underinsured. With significant price premium increases, some companies are having to make hard decisions about how much insurance they can afford and what to do to ensure they are still properly insured for risk.

The insurance market is currently facing the “perfect storm” due to the current state of the world. Jillian dives into the issues that are affecting the insurance markets, which is leading to increased premium increases.

It all flows up to the reinsurance markets, very data driven underwriting in that space.

– Jillian Slyfield

As more certainty comes into view on monetarily policy and elections, the insurance markets should start to stabilize. Monetary policy and elections have direct effects on markets across the globe.

Looking at the capital markets, one of the biggest trends of 2020 has been SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) which have raised $51.3 billion this year as compared to $111.6 billion raised in traditional IPOs.

Grayson asks Jillian how the insurance is different for SPACs as compared to traditional IPOs and how underwriters view the risk of SPACs.

Interestingly the markets see SPACs being less risky than a traditional IPO, which can be very positive.

– Jillian Slyfield

The biggest risk for a company going public either through a SPAC or a traditional IPO is the D&O (Directors and Officers) insurance. For a company going public, insurer selection is extremely important and that the carrier understands your business model and industry.

Aon works with their clients to ensure that if this then that scenario happens, their clients are fully protected with the right insurance.

Claims occur all of the time. That is why the insurance is there. That is why you have strong advisors like Aon beyond you. Should something arise, you get the best counsel possible.

– Jillian Slyfield

Staying on the theme of working with clients, Grayson asks Jillian how Aon works with underwriters to properly insure asset-light companies. The risk issues, the data used for underwriting is different for asset-light companies.

Jillian gives a masterclass on how insurance can be used to protect third-party transactions such as Airbnb and Uber. Looking to understand these asset-light businesses, underwriters are actively using the products and services to fully understand the business.

By driving for Uber or listing your home on Airbnb, underwriters are experiencing how the business operates first-hand and what potential risks are associated with the business model. This hands-on approach allows underwriters to properly understand the risk.

With an autonomous future on the horizon, Grayson and Jillian discuss what happens when autonomous vehicles are operating in cities around the world. Autonomous vehicles do not get distracted or sleepy, which will lead to a decrease in claims.

Jillian goes onto explain how insurance carriers are planning for a future with autonomous vehicles and who will be responsible for the risk and pay the insurance premiums.

Expanding upon this conversation, Grayson and Jillian discuss how underwriters are looking at insuring self-driving trucks and delivery bots.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson asks Jillian what impact will mobility and innovation have on the broader insurance market over the next 25 years.

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Mobility SPACs: Hype or Reality?

David Welch, Detroit Bureau Chief, Bloomberg joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the mobility SPAC market.

The conversation begins with David sharing his thoughts on the current state of the mobility SPAC market. He brings up the valid point of who is conducting the scouting and due diligence on the deals.

Grayson then asks David about the supposed due diligence that Steve Girsky’s VectoIQ Acquisition Corp. did prior to merging with Nikola and taking the company public via a SPAC transaction. Building upon that conversation, David talks about the in-progress Nikola / GM deal that has yet to close.

Expanding upon the conversation around Nikola and GM, Grayson asks David if Nikola would even have made it through a traditional IPO. David does not think Nikola would have made it through a traditional IPO process.

David suggests that GM originally did the deal with Nikola because the company had a hot stock at the time. Was the Nikola stock craze driven by retail investors on Robinhood? Perhaps, but we do not know.

Now SoftBank and Apollo Global Management have announced that are launching SPACs.

Real money is getting into the game. To me, that is a good sign. Those guys are professionals who invested in everything from publicly traded stocks already to startups and other private players.

They have made a lot of money so it’s more clear that they know how to do due diligence.

It’s a better bet than the more well-known SPACs that are out there.

– David Welch

Could this be a trend of blue-chip investment companies investing in less-risky electric mobility companies? BlackRock has invested billions in Rivian and Arrival. Both companies are being deemed less-risky than other mobility start-ups by the market. Rivian also has backing from Amazon.

Staying on the Amazon theme, Grayson and David discuss Amazon and mobility. What are the plans for Zoox? Will Amazon end up acquiring Rivian? Does Amazon introduce a mobility Prime service in the future powered by Zoox?

Amazon could have their own competitor to Uber and Lyft with Zoox controlled self-driving vehicles.

– David Welch

But who wants to own and manage the fleet? Does someone buy Hertz out of bankruptcy to carve out an autonomous vehicle management business? Or does Penske expand outside of trucks into autonomous vehicles?

Rounding out the fleet management conversation, Grayson asks David to share his thoughts on the Great Pivot from Self-Driving Cars to Self-Driving Trucks. The two discuss the economics of self-driving trucks and how the business has a path to profitability.

Did this path to profitability, impact Waymo’s decision to introduce self-driving trucks as the Waymo Via service? Grayson and David discuss Alphabet’s appetite to continue investing in Waymo without revenue.

When Alphabet breaks out Waymo revenue for the first time, it will have a positive impact on Alphabet’s stock price. One just has to look to the time when Amazon broke out AWS (Amazon Web Services) revenue and the impact the revenue breakout had on Amazon’s stock.

While Waymo is developing the Waymo Driver, Embark, Kodiak, and TuSimple have been focused solely on trucking from day one. Does this give them a competitive advantage? Perhaps.

Grayson and David go on to discuss the Universal Driver debate and how developing autonomous technologies for trucks operating on highways is different than developing the tech for dense urban environments such as San Francisco.

Staying on the theme of companies that are developing the Universal Driver, Grayson and David discuss Aurora and their many pivots. The two discuss Aurora’s business model and their seemingly never-ending stream of partnerships with no commercially viable products. Evolving into a larger discussion, the two discuss the need for partnerships in the autonomous vehicle industry.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson asks David when Tata Motors will make a move and introduce self-driving Jaguars and Land Rover Range Rovers through a partnership with an autonomous vehicle company.

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Autonomous Trucking Logistics

Jordan Coleman, General Counsel and Vice President of Policy, Kodiak Robotics joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss autonomous trucking logistics.

The conversation begins with Jordan talking about his journey from corporate lawyer to start-up lawyer. His love of being a lawyer and working on transformative technology and what happened when Kodiak Robotics Co-Founders, Don Burnette, and Paz Eshel asked Jordan to join Kodiak as General Counsel.

As my parents like to say, I was a lawyer when I was two-years old at the dinner table, well before I ever went to law school.

– Jordan Coleman

Expanding upon the dinner table conversation, Grayson asks Jordan to dive into family dinners and to share his insight into what his family would discuss over dinner. Jordan credits his parents and family for encouraging him to explore intellectual curiosity and have healthy debates.

My dinner table was a debate club, my dinner table was public speaking 101 and my dinner table was definitely law school 101.

– Jordan Coleman

The conversation evolves from the dinner table to a discussion on why autonomous trucks and what problems autonomous trucks can solve. The impact autonomous trucks will have on the economy and society as a whole.

The economy can not function well without a well functioning logistics system.

– Jordan Coleman

Autonomous trucks will make the roadways of the United States safer for every single driver and passenger on the road. Autonomous trucks will be safer than human drivers as they do not get distracted, they do not drink and drive and they do not tailgate.

For individuals who grew up in the ’80s with a third-row rear-facing seat in the back of their parent’s station wagons commonly known as the way-back, don’t worry your children will still be able to play the “Truck Honk Game”.

There is nothing more mom and apple pie Americana than pulling the old air horn sign and the truck honking that horn.

– Jordan Coleman

The perception team at Kodiak is actively working on ensuring that when a child does the “Truck Honk” arm pull, the autonomous truck will honk.

In addition to working on the “Truck Honk”, Kodiak is actively delivering loads in Texas and learning how to operate in Texas. Kodiak is developing a technology that is solving pain-points and ensuring customer happiness.

While Kodiak is purely focused on highway driving for autonomous trucks, a majority of the autonomous industry is focused on passenger vehicles in dense urban environments such as San Fransisco. San Fransisco is a notoriously complex city to drive in (both human and autonomously), not to mention a stringent regulatory environment.

With the uncertainty around business models and the complexity of driving in dense urban environments, Grayson asks Jordan about “The Great Pivot to Autonomous Trucking” and why companies are pivoting from passenger vehicles to trucks.

Part of the pivot is being driven by the economics of autonomous trucking as there is a clear path to profitability. The other part of the pivot is being driven by the fact that autonomous highway driving is an easier problem to solve than driving in dense urban environments.

Then there is the opportunity based on trends, the growth of e-commerce, and cooking at home with farm-to-table ingredients. These goods and ingredients are shipped to consumer homes on trucks.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Jordan discuss the economics of autonomous trucks, the trend of asset-light businesses, and why autonomous trucking as-a-service will become a reality in the future.

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