Obsessed with The Impossible

Alex Roy, Director of Special Operations at Argo AI, host of The No Parking and Autonocast Podcasts, Editor-at-Large, The Drive, Founder of the Human Driving Association, author of The Driver, and Producer of APEX: The Secret Race Across America joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why he has always been obsessed with the impossible.

The conversation begins with Alex discussing his 2007 U.S. Cannonball Run in a BMW M5 and how he was able to break the record using data.

I have always been obsessed with things that people said are impossible. Someone says something is impossible, I want to try it. Or as an investor, I want to invest in it because the future is always built by optimists.

– Alex Roy

It was during this time that Alex first learned about mapping and how creating a map with intricate details such as construction zones and potential police hiding places could enable the U.S. Cannonball record to be broken.

16, 17 years ago, we created map data sets around road construction, road conditions, police locations, and looked at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) [for] weather, and created a very comprehensive data set and plan.

– Alex Roy

The U.S. Cannonball Run changed Alex’s life after the story was published in Wired Magazine. The FBI called and invited Alex to speak at the FBI Academy about how he used free off-the-shelf mapping tools to create datasets to do the impossible – breaking the Cannonball record.

With the record broken, the FBI asking how he did it, corporations asking for advice on mapping, an appearance on The Tonight Show with David Letterman, the Alex Roy brand was born.

Years later, Alex would meet Bryan Salesky, Co-Founder & CEO of Argo AI. That meeting would change Alex’s life when Bryan asked him how he did it and said the following:

So basically you were using for bad all of the technology that we use for good. You have an engineer’s mind but not the education. Have you ever considered how else you might use that knowledge?

It was at that moment that Alex put his knowledge to good and joined Argo AI.

Very few people in life are lucky enough to have such an opportunity, so I was going to take it. If I had lasted one week, I would have said that was the best week of my life because I could point back and say that was a good thing.

– Alex Roy

While Argo operates as a business, other companies in the industry are solely focused on perfection and not necessarily the business of autonomy. Grayson asks Alex for his thoughts on this trend and what is behind it. Alex emphasizes the importance of studying and understanding history.

Every successful technology and business built around it learns from the prior one. Or at least the successful companies do.

– Alex Roy

Looking at history, Grayson discusses his theory on why autonomous vehicles will become platforms that will enable businesses to build experiences and expand margins. Staying on the history theme, Alex talks about the ascending room and how elevators enabled profitable experiences.

[Elevators] were installed by the department stores because as spectacles and experiences the thought was that they would compel or inspire shopping.

– Alex Roy

Combining an Only in Vegas experience with a mobile gambling platform and an autonomous vehicle, casinos can expand their highly profitable gaming operations into mobility. Grayson and Alex discuss why this could become a product.

Each city will have multiple products based on and around the autonomous vehicles. Some may exist today, but what you really want is to create experiences and products around autonomy that don’t exist today. What is the number one lesson in entertainment? Give them something that they can’t get anywhere else and if you can, let them have it twice.

– Alex Roy

Taking this experience outside of Vegas to cities around the world, this experience will become possible as States continue to legalize online gambling. In the future fans will be able to ride in bespoke autonomous vehicles to sports events. These vehicles will be fully stocked for tailgating with beverages, food, and the ability to gamble. From a safety perspective, fans will no longer be driving home from the game after consuming adult beverages.

With the advancements of AR (augmented reality), new experiences will be created in the mobility sector that will turn into new profitable revenue streams for autonomous vehicle companies which operate as platforms. This is the future of the much-rumored Apple Car. The Apple Car will be a platform that allows Apple to expand its fast-growing services business.

Airbnb will be another very large player in the autonomous vehicle industry in the future as the company looks to expand its experiences business. The music industry will also benefit as it is an experiences business. On an episode of The No Parking Podcast, Alex and Bryan spoke with Barak Moffitt, Executive Vice President of Content Strategy & Operations, Universal Music Group about combining music with AR to enable in-autonomous vehicle experiences.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Alex discuss how autonomous vehicles will eliminate friction when attending concerts.

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Recorded on Thursday, July 15, 2021.