Fashionably Late to Autonomy: Understanding Market Dynamics

Çetin Meriçli, Co-Founder & CEO of Locomation joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss what he saw when he launched Locomation into a maturing autonomous trucking market in 2018.

The conversation begins with Çetin discussing growing up in Istanbul, Turkey, and how his family encouraged curiosity and asking questions to learn.

Curious to us, was something that was particularly promoted in our family.

– Çetin Meriçli

With unlimited curiosity and an always learning philosophy, Çetin taught himself computer programing when his Uncle gifted him a small home computer.

I started learning computer programing. Very quickly I ran out of the idea of just getting the computer to do what I wanted it to do. Then I started exploring the idea of what if the computer can make the decisions? What if it can surprise me?

– Çetin Meriçli

After several years of hard work, Çetin moved to America to study robotics at Carnegie Mellon in 2009 and be part of the history.

CMU (Carnegie Mellon University) was equal to Top Gun for me. I wanted to come here, I wanted to learn from the Red Whittaker’s, Al Kelly’s, Tony Stentz’s of the world.

– Çetin Meriçli

While a Senior Robotics Engineer at the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon, Çetin co-authored the Slip-aware Model Predictive Optimal Control for Path Following paper which was published by IEEE. This paper heavily influenced the founding of Locomation as several of the co-founders were authors.

Locomation was founded in 2018 just as the autonomous trucking market was starting to mature. Grayson asks Çetin what he saw when he made the decision to join a maturing market.

We were not deterred, but we were actually nervous. We were scared to death. That is just normal because you are about to enter into a race where there are quote on quote more established players.

– Çetin Meriçli

Know-how is very valuable. With a history in robotics and automation, the team at Locomation sat back and watched as the market matured. They were learning the market and discovering opportunities based on their technical backgrounds. While others made mistakes, Çetin learned and studied until the time was right.

Being fashionably late to the party we did not lose the entire window of opportunity. We got our feet into the game at the right time. We got to observe what others were going after.

– Çetin Meriçli

Sitting back and observing the market, Çetin was able to develop an autonomous trucking business model that would resonate with the market.

The business model resonated with Wilson Logistics after a chance meeting at a conference. Then in September 2020, the companies announced a deal where 1,120 Wilson Logistics trucks will be equipped with Locomation’s autonomous relay convoy technology.

Currently, Locomation has tested trucks in Pittsburgh, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon, Idaho, Texas, and Louisiana. Grayson goes onto asks Çetin what the company is learning from testing in different environments with different climates and driving habits.

Not all tests are created equal.

– Çetin Meriçli

Grayson shifts the conversation to commercialization and asks Çetin when the company plans to start deploying trucks for customers and when the company will become profitable.

In late 2022, Locomation trucks will start operating commercially and by 2023, the company will be cash-flow profitable optionally.

Wrapping up the conversation, Çetin shares his thoughts on the current state of the autonomous trucking industry.

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Recorded on Thursday, February 2, 2021.