The Road to Autonomy Podcast

The Road to Autonomy hosted by Grayson Brulte is a podcast featuring unconventional conversations about the future of mobility.

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Enabling In-Vehicle Experiences and Commerce

John Absmeier, Chief Technology Officer, Lear Corporation joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss Seating as a Service and how Xevo will enable in-vehicle experiences and commerce.

The conversation begins with John discussing his time in the United States Marine Corps and what he learned as a Sergeant E5 motor transport mechanic. John learned leadership skills that have translated into an extremely successful career as an innovator and business leader.

As a young engineer, John worked on the inductive charge panel connection system for the GM EV1.

I got highly interested in electrification 25 years ago.

– John Absmeier

It was this project that sparked John’s interest in electrification. In 2012, John set up Delphi Labs and led the lab’s development of its autonomous vehicle platform. In 2015 a Delphi Labs autonomous vehicle completed a coast-to-coast trip from San Francisco to New York City. During this time, John put his leadership skills to work as he worked with the team to solve the complex problem of autonomous driving.

With a background in solving complex problems, Grayson asks John what attracted him to join Lear. John goes onto discuss his time at Samsung and when Mr. Ray Scott, CEO of Lear Corporation approached him about becoming CTO.

We need to start to focus on innovation and technology as a priority in our mission. We need someone who has experience and wants to drive that.

– Mr. Ray Scott, President & CEO, Lear Corporation as told by John Absmeier

When John joined Lear, he became the company’s first CTO. As CTO of Lear, John became CTO of a publicly-traded company with a market cap at that time of $13 billion (June 2018). As CTO of a publicly-traded company, Grayson asks John how he is keeping Lear 2 to 3 steps ahead of the competition in autonomous vehicles.

Autonomous vehicles for Lear are a bit of a different thing. We are not directly competing in the full-stack development. But, all of our products are affected by the changes that happen.

– John Absmeier

As mobility changes and new shared services are introduced, there is one common denominator – passengers will continue to ride in seats. New business models will emerge such as ‘Seats as Service” where customers can opt to take a ride in a vehicle that offers an in-vehicle seat massage.

With the growth of the gaming world, Grayson asks John if Lear is taking inspiration from the gaming world as it relates to in-vehicle seat design.

The user experience is now the main differentiator in cars.

– John Absmeier

Expanding the conversation of experiences, Grayson asks John about Lear’s acquisition of Xevo in 2019. Why did Lear acquire Xevo? Xevo will allow Lear to expand its “seating as a service” compliment it with in-vehicle experiences and commerce.

Looking to the future, Grayson asks John when he expects to see AR (augmented reality) experiences in vehicles. Taking a step back, John talks about CES 2014, when Samsung showcased an AR experience in a Tesla Model S. Staying on the CES theme, Grayson talks about the Warner Bros. / Intel immersive entertainment experience which they demonstrated in 2019.

As companies look to develop in-vehicle experiences, Grayson shares his thoughts on why Disney will introduce a Star Wars in-vehicle experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. Comparing and contrasting Disney with Lear, Grayson asks John about the footprint of the Xevo platform.

Xevo is currently running in over 50 million vehicles globally. The Xevo commerce platform has over 400,000 retail outlets which are available to customers today. All of the data generated through driver interactions is owned by Xevo’s OEM customers.

To enable in-vehicle commerce a payment method is needed. Grayson asks John how Xevo approaches payments and integrates the ability to pay for goods and services into the platform. Xevo does not store credit card data, instead, they aggerate payments through a secure wallet. When the vehicle becomes autonomous, the wallet can reside in the mobility provider’s app.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and John discuss the current state of M&A in the autonomous vehicle industry.

There [are] very few companies in the world that have the balance sheet to create an entire autonomy stack. I estimate that it is somewhere in the $50 billion to the $100 billion range to create a full autonomous stack solution.

– John Absmeier

Consolidation is coming across the board as companies start to turn their attention to the economics of autonomy.

Mobility is only going to get a lot better.

– John Absmeier

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Recorded on Friday, April 30, 2021.

Economic Impact of the U.S. Oil Industry

Dean Foreman, Chief Economist, American Petroleum Institute (API), and Prentiss Searles, Petroleum Marketing Policy Manager, American Petroleum Institute (API) joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the economic impact of the U.S. oil industry.

The conversation begins with Dean sharing an overview of the current state of the U.S. oil markets.

We have historically strong demand, potentially record demand this year and next combined. Weak drilling activity, weak investment. That opens the question of just the extent that the U.S. can participate in this recovery.

– Dean Foreman

The U.S. is no longer an exporter of oil, the U.S. is once again a net-importer of oil.

In 2020 [The United States] was a net-exporter of between $15 and $16 billion dollars. We have gone from imports of $300 to $400 billion dollars a year to exports of $15 to $16 billion and potentially is the U.S. energy revolution remains intact the ability to grow that.

– Dean Foreman

A recent report has stated that the United States could be heading for an oil shortage in 2022. Grayson asks Dean about this report and what the potential impact will be on the economy and the average consumer. Dean explains how this could lead to higher costs for transportation and the shipment of goods.

With a potential oil shortage, Grayson asks Prentiss what it will mean for U.S. consumers and their driving habits. Looking back in history, Prentiss discusses how U.S. drivers changed their driving habits to save money and why consumers may opt for hybrid vehicles if this scenario happens.

Hybrids definitely provide economic ways to achieve higher fuel economy.

– Dean Foreman

As society starts to shift to electric vehicles, Grayson asks Dean about the economics and the potential impact policy will have on cost increases for consumers.

By having an EV mandate built into the economy will impact the amount of vehicles that are available for the secondary market to purchase. That ends up having an additional cost and EVs are $10 to $15 thousand dollars more compared to an equal-sized vehicle.

– Prentiss Searles

Staying on the theme of policy, Grayson asks Dean about a Tampa, Florida Council Member who proposed banning fossil fuels and any new fossil fuel infrastructure in the city of Tampa by 2030. Dean who is originally from Tampa, explains what the negative impact would be on Florida’s economy.

This would be one way to really grid Florida’s economy to a halt.

– Dean Foreman

The natural gas and petroleum industry supports more than 10 million jobs in the United States. The average salary in the industry is $50,000 above the nationwide average.

Shifting the conversation back to passenger cars, Grayson asks Prentiss what would the current state of the electric vehicle market look like if there were no subsidies? Prentiss explains that there would still be a market for electric vehicles, but the market would not be as large as it is today. He cites Georgia as an example, when the electric vehicle tax credit was removed, EV sales plunged by 90% in the State.

Referencing an article in the Wall Street Journal about how automakers are trying to increase sales of electric vehicles by demanding higher taxes on conventional vehicles that burn gas and diesel fuel, Grayson asks Dean when do shareholders raise the economic concerns of this strategy.

The conversation flows into a discussion about free markets and when do market-based economics return instead of markets being driven by policy.

Consumers are ultimately going to be the ones who have to choose. Affordability is going to rule. We have to have an embedded faith that consumer preferences will ultimately speak and that this will play out.

– Dean Foreman

Looking at the passenger vehicle market, Prentiss shares his thoughts on free markets and consumer choice of vehicles. Consumers will end up choosing vehicles that meet their needs.

Regardless of how quickly EVs take off as a percentage of sales, in 20 years, the majority of vehicles are still going to remain internal combustion vehicle.

– Prentiss Searles

Expanding upon consumer choice, Prentiss discusses the best ways to reduce carbon emissions of vehicles without having a negative economic impact. As more electric vehicles come online with charging infrastructure, Dean discusses what the potential economic impact will be on the petroleum market.

Wrapping up the conversation, Dean and Prentiss discuss the future of the petroleum industry.

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Recorded on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

Brightline: The Mobility Experience Company

Patrick Goddard, President of Brightline Trains joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss how Brightline is building a mobility experience company.

The conversation begins with Patrick discussing how his background in hospitality partly inspired the way Brightline was developed and how it is managed today. Customer service and the emotional connection with the experience are the keys to success in the experience business.

We are first and foremost an experience-focused company.

– Patrick Goddard

Prior to boarding the train, the customer journey begins the moment that individual leaves their home or hotel. You have to think about that journey and look at it through the five senses. Patrick discusses how the five senses create an emotional connection.

Understanding the door to door to experience for a traveler has become more and more important.

– Patrick Goddard

Expanding upon this thought, Patrick dives into the experience economy and how it is now starting to transform the transportation industry. The transportation industry is actively learning from the hospitality and restaurant industries on how to implement and scale meaningful experiences with an emotional connection.

The experiences economy is upon us. It has been upon us for some time.

– Patrick Goddard

Focusing is on the Brightline experience, Patrick discusses in great detail the Brightline experience and how it was designed. From digital infrastructure to physical infrastructure, Brightline has completely thought through every single element of the experience.

Looking to the future, Grayson asks Patrick if Brightline will partner with an autonomous vehicle company to provide a branded Brightline mobility experience destination to destination.

We have to think about transportation as an ecosystem.

– Patrick Goddard

Brightline is actively looking into what those mobility experiences might look like with a variety of non-exclusive partners. These services will be fully integrated into the Brightline experience without friction and without having to make multiple payments to multiple service providers.

As Brightline expands to Orlando / Walt Disney World and adds new stops, Grayson asks Patrick how the Brightline experience will not be diluted. Patrick shares a great example of driving from Miami to Walt Disney World with his family and all of the possible issues including traffic which could make the trip longer and stressful.

When you get on our trains, you stop worrying about the time. It’s not about the time. It’s about the reliability and the experience.

– Patrick Goddard

On the train, you are relaxed, having a drink, or taking a nap. You arrive at the destination calm and ready to have fun at Walt Disney World.

Connecting Miami to Orlando with Brightline will have a positive impact on Florida’s economy. Grayson shares data from a previous podcast with Dr. Jerry Parrish, Chief Economist and Director of Research, Florida Chamber Foundation about how tourism dollars will be spent when tourists have a frictionless way to travel to different parts of the State.

Looking back in history, Patrick discusses the history of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway and how Brightline is building upon that history. The Florida East Coast Railway was built to support Flagler’s hotel operations. Brightline is following a similar model by developing the land around the stations.

Wrapping up the conversation, Patrick discusses the future of Brightline and why Brightline is a mobility experience company.

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Recorded on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

The Future of Parking: Integrated Payments & Mobility Hubs

Neil Golson, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, FLASH joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss how software and partnerships are enabling the future of parking —integrated payments and mobility hubs.

The conversation begins with Neil sharing his insight into the current state of the parking business. While parking demand is still down 65% pre-COVID, the industry is beginning to rebound as consumers begin to travel again.

FLASH has an interesting insight into the parking industry as they do not own the asset, they are the software layer that enables parking operators to efficiently manage their facilities.

Our role is to enable [parking operators] and to drive their technology so that they can differentiate their own asset.

– Neil Golson

One of the neat ways FLASH is enabling parking operators to create new sources of revenue is their digital wallet offering that integrates services such as Ticketmaster and OpenTable. This eliminates friction for parking customers and simplifies the transaction.

Another way, FLASH is eliminating friction is by re-thinking having a redundant system in place for when the tickets run out at a parking kiosk. FLASH’s system automatically switches to another mode such as scanning your license plate or using your credit card as a ticket.

This all boils down to what is the best customer experience and what can we do to enhance the customer experience. Neil goes onto explain the ways that FLASH is constantly working to improve the parking experience and ways to increase revenue for parking operators.

Our system can change on a dime.

– Neil Golson

With a flexible system, customers benefit as FLASH can remotely change lane directions to ensure individuals can get into the game faster and exit faster with dynamic lanes. Grayson asks Neil, what’s the next step in improving the customer experience. Neil goes onto explain how FLASH is working with Target to integrate a parking and charging experience which is tied to purchases.

One of the keys to building out mobility hubs is partnerships. One of the partnerships that FLASH has is with EVBox. Grayson asks Neil about the partnership and why FLASH ultimately decided to partner with EVBox.

EVBox really saw the opportunity to separate hardware from software.

– Neil Golson

Ultimately it was EVBox’s open-architecture platform that sealed the deal as FLASH could customize the software for their customers. With FLASH actively preparing for a future with electric vehicles, Grayson goes onto to ask Neil how the company is actively preparing for a future with autonomous vehicles.

The company is actively preparing for an autonomous future by fully understanding the asset down to the curb, the size of the parking space, and how the vehicles will pay to park.

We power the Porsche app. Porsche only wanted to put parking spaces that were of a certain width to make sure that Porsche drivers didn’t get dinged.

– Neil Golson

This approach creates value for the Porsche brand as Porsche customers do not have to worry about parking in a space that is too close to another car.

In Las Vegas, FLASH has a partnership with the City of Las Vegas to allow Uber drivers to park in a staging area while waiting for a ride. Looking to the future, Grayson asks Neil if FLASH is using the data from this partnership to model for a future with autonomous vehicles.

Rounding out the mobility hub strategy, FLASH has a partnership with SwiftMile to solve the clutter issue with scooters laying around parking assets.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Neil discuss parking infrastructure assets and what happens when individuals begin to travel in large numbers again.

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Recorded on Thursday, April 1 2021.

Cyber Intelligence

Bryan Hurd, Vice President, Chief of Office, Aon Cyber Solutions (Stroz Friedberg) joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the current state of cybersecurity and why cyber intelligence is critically important for Governments and Publicly Traded Companies.

The conversation begins with Bryan discussing the founding of the U.S. Navy’s First Cyber-Counterintelligence Program at Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Expanding upon the founding of the program, Bryan goes onto discuss Cliff Stoll, “Hanover hackers” and nation-state cyber attacks.

Then there is the emerging threat of the non-nation state of hackers which are having an impact on society.

Popular culture makes it cool to be a hacker.

– Bryan Hurd

Grayson asks Bryan what assets hackers are looking to steal and compromise. International organized crime is focused on ransomware and IP Theft, while nation-state hackers are focused on gathering intel and plans on how the military develops planes and sensitive military assets.

The dwell times for these bad actors vary depending on the sophistication of the organization and what they are looking to achieve. At times international organized crime will gather all of the data they want, then lock the data and demand a ransom that is paid in crypto coin.

Ransomware is a clear and present danger to the United States.

– Bryan Hurd

With ransom being paid in crypto coin, Grayson and Bryan go onto discuss the potential regulation of Bitcoin and the impact it would have on the market if a “know your customer” regulation would be put into place. Shifting the conversation to transportation, Bryan discusses the founding of the No Fly List and how it was developed using machine learning.

As society beings to shift towards electric vehicles, Grayson asks Bryan why there is not a larger conversation taking place on how you secure the energy grid from a potential cyber attack. Securing the energy grid is critically important as millions of consumers begin to drive charge their electric vehicles.

Securing intellectual property (IP) for large knowledge-based companies is also critical as the valuations of those companies are partly based on their IP portfolios. Using the Waymo vs. Uber lawsuit as an example, Grayson brings up Exhibit 22 from the trial as an example of why cyber intelligence and on-the-ground intelligence is critically important for companies developing new technologies.

If your entire company’s net worth is based on intellectual property (IP), a formula for a soft drink, a vaccine formulation, or intellectual property on how to make the next driverless automobile, then that is information that needs to be protected from an IT and tagging/data loss prevention and employee contracts for the level that is appropriate to your company.

– Bryan Hurd

This raises the question of how connected should the Board of Directors be to the industry of the company of the board that they are sitting on?

Just the right bit of intel at the right time can either save you billions in research and development or get you there faster than the people who actually founded it.

– Bryan Hurd

Looking at the current state of the world and events shaping the global economy, Grayson asks if bad actors are looking at the economic and supply-chain damage that the Ever Given container ship caused when it blocked the Suez Canal as an idea for a possible cyber attack. What if cyber terrorists could take control of container ships to cause economic harm globally?

Bryan talks about the current state of cyber terrorism, what bad actors are targeting and what the response could look like in the future. As society becomes more and more connected, it will be inherently important for companies to build trust around their products and services.

Trust is not only to the brand. It is to the uptick of any new technology or service. Spending a little bit more at the beginning to ensure that trust has a good foundation is going to be a more central discussion.

– Bryan Hurd

Wrapping up the conversation, Bryan discusses what we can do as a society to stay pro-active and why cyber intelligence will continue to be top of mind for Government, companies and individuals.

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Recorded on Tuesday April 6, 2021.