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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Autonomy and Electrification Makes Possible

Matthew Lipka, Head Of Policy, Nuro and Bert Kaufman, Head of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Zoox joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why autonomy and electrification make the future of mobility and delivery possible.

The conversation begins with Matthew and Bert discussing what the SAVE Coalition is and why the coalition was founded. The idea for SAVE was originally hatched at an autonomous vehicle conference in late 2017 and further formulated during a coffee meeting at Philz Coffee in San Mateo, CA between Matthew and Bert.

Both Nuro and Zoox had and still have a unique point of view on autonomy. Both companies along with Local Motors decided not to retrofit a vehicle for autonomy and instead choose to build purpose-built vehicles from the ground up.

We got a unique point of view because we made the deliberate decision to not retrofit.

– Bert Kaufman

When companies choose to build a bespoke vehicle, it creates new opportunities but also unique policy challenges such as updating the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).

If you are rethinking the car then you are not going to be building an internal combustion engine. You are not going to be building a vehicle that is designed just for protecting that those inside. It is also going to be thinking about those outside of the vehicle. There are a lot of opportunities this creates both in the robotaxi as well in the delivery space.

– Matthew Lipka

As companies such as Zoox prepare to commercialize their robotaxi services, they are working to properly set expectations.

The first to know is that it is going to be a very shallow ramp into society for these fully autonomous vehicles to start driving around on public roads.

– Bert Kaufman

Trust is the other key component to ensuring the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles. First responders have to trust that they can safely engage with the vehicle. The public has to trust that the vehicle will get them to and from their destination safely. Once trust is developed and the public’s expectations are set, robotaxis and autonomous vehicle delivery services can scale.

One of the most effective ways to build trust is through education. SAVE is working to educate policymakers and the public about the benefits of bespoke electric autonomous vehicles. One of the best ways to educate the public and to build trust is through interactive autonomous vehicle demo days where individuals can experience the technology first-hand.

People who have interacted with an autonomous vehicle, more than 75% of them say they trust autonomous vehicles, I would use it again. But people who haven’t, the number is much lower.

– Matthew Lipka

Autonomy and electrification are enabling designers and engineers to completely reimagine what is possible. This is exactly what Nuro and Zoox are accomplishing through design.

There are all sorts of new designs that may be necessary or possible created by autonomy. We are just at the beginning of learning that.

– Matthew Lipka

In order for this to happen, policies and regulations have to be updated. Policymakers and regulators have to look past what is considered normal and to a future that prioritizes safety innovations.

These new technologies offer the promise of new safety innovations for our roadways.

– Bert Kaufman

Wrapping up the conversation, Matthew, Bert, and Grayson discuss the future of autonomy.

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Recorded on Monday, November 15, 2021.

An All-Electric Future

Dr. Dean Bushey, Vice President, Global Social Innovation Business, Hitachi joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss an all-electric vehicle future.

The conversation begins with Dean discussing his 25-year career in the United States Air Force and his first-hand experience with unmanned aircraft.

When you fly a drone, you actually get combat hours.

– Dr. Dean Bushey

From military applications of unmanned aircraft to civilian applications, Grayson asks Dean his thoughts on the consumer drone market. It’s an exciting market with a lot of use cases.

If you look at a drone it’s a platform that holds a sensor and the sensor is what makes it sexy. Whether it’s a camera used in photography, a camera used in mapping. A sensor used to measure the depth of water at a mining facility.

– Dr. Dean Bushey

Shifting the conversation to Hitachi, Grayson asks Dean how Hitachi is evolving as a business with a strong focus on an ESG future. As part of this focus, Hitachi is focused on the societal conversion from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles.

In order to achieve a successful conversion to electric vehicles, companies need a plan. A plan is needed for the vehicles, energy grids, maintenance solutions, and infrastructure. Dean breaks down what a plan looks like and what is needed to start the electric vehicle planning process. The key to the planning process is optimization.

Currently, there is no optimized way to pay for electric vehicle charging when you travel unless you drive a Tesla as there is a standardized payment solution.

When there is a standardized payment solution it will have to be:

Convenient, seamless, and secure.

– Dr. Dean Bushey

Staying on the security theme, Grayson asks Dean what can be done to secure an electric vehicle when the vehicle is connected to the energy grid and charging.

We need to recognize that it is a critical infrastructure piece. If you are plugging into the grid and you are operating a vehicle based on your charge down the highway it becomes a national safety concern.

– Dr. Dean Bushey

As society moves towards an all-electric vehicle, Grayson and Dean discuss major obstacles that might slow down the adoption of electric vehicles. To make an all-electric future a reality, it has to be convenient.

A big concern, one that you are already seeing — supply chain disruption is going to be a big one.

– Dr. Dean Bushey

Supply chain disruptions extend from the chip shortage to the mineral supply chain. Similar to the electric vehicle industry, the autonomous vehicle industry is facing similar supply chain issues. The future of electrification and autonomy will overlap in the coming years as the technology and hardware mature.

The emerging industries of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles will create new high-paying jobs. Grayson and Dean discuss the new jobs that will be created as autonomous vehicles and trucks scale.

In the future, these vehicles will be electric and they will have to be optimally charged and integrated into the fleet. The question is how? Dean discusses how delivery fleets can optimize their charging times based on delivery routes.

Wrapping up the conversation, Dean shares his thoughts on the mobility trends he sees emerging in 2022.

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Recorded on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

Investing in Growth

Annant Patel, Director, Koch Disruptive Technologies, and Gautam Narang, CEO & Co-Founder, Gatik joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss investing in growth.

The conversation begins with Gautam discussing why he decided to run Gatik as a business from day one and why the team focused on the middle mile.

When we started Gatik we decided to focus on an opportunity that was being overlooked by almost every AV developer, which was automating on-road goods transportation.

– Gautam Narang

As Gatik has scaled and grown as a business, Grayson asks Annant what first attracted Koch Disruptive Technologies to Gatik.

We saw the tech is disruptive, going back to the investment philosophy, it was disruptive to Koch, it was disruptive to the supply chain and it’s good for society.

– Annant Patel

Shifting the conversation to economics, Gautam explains how Gatik has been able to achieve profitability at the vehicle level.

Our operations are highly efficient. We operate our trucks over 20 hours daily, 7 days a week.

– Gautam Narang

With a highly efficient operation, Gatik has begun to pass on savings to customers. In the history of Gatik, the company has not lost a single customer or partner. As Gatik prepares to turn five years old next year, the company is accelerating growth through partnerships with Walmart, Loblaw, Goodyear, Ryder, and Koch Industries.

Koch Disruptive Technologies is helping Gatik accelerate growth.

The alignment between KDT and Gatik was there since the very first meeting.

– Gautam Narang

One of the advantages of a Koch partnership is Koch Labs that strategically accelerates growth for portfolio partners. Annant explains how Gatik is leveraging the Koch Labs opportunity.

Koch is investing for long-term growth.

We invest 90% of earnings back into Koch. That translates to about to $133 billion invested in growth and improvements since 2003. $30 billion was spent on technology investments and acquisitions in the last six years alone.

– Annant Patel

With a long-term growth mindset, Grayson asks Annant what Koch’s vision is for autonomy.

The future is now. Gatik is pulling the future forward as we think about it. If you are not experimenting with automation and supply chain transformation, the way I say it is that we are already many years behind.

– Annant Patel

With the supply chain disruptions actively affecting the economy and autonomous trucking and delivery vehicles offering a solution, Gautam shares his thoughts on the commercialization of autonomy and Gatik’s partnership with Walmart.

Gatik is laser-focused on the middle mile. Gautam explains why:

All of this started with the customer pain-point and the customer need.

– Gautam Narang

The team at Gatik clearly saw the emerging trend of same-day delivery which would require new smaller distribution centers located closer to consumers.

Wrapping up the conversation, Annant and Gautam discuss the current state of the global supply chain.

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Recorded on Thursday, October 21, 2021.

Future of Local Commerce

Greg Rogers, Public Policy Manager, Nuro joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the future of local commerce.

The conversation begins with Greg discussing Nuro’s plan for the new manufacturing facility and test track in Las Vegas, Nevada. The facility will employ 250 individuals and generate as much as $2.2 billion in economic benefits for Nevada in the first 10 years.

This is the first such factory in America which will have the capacity to manufacture tens of thousands of autonomous delivery vehicles.

– Greg Rogers

With the factory being built to manufacture and scale the autonomous delivery robots, Grayson asks Greg what has to be done from a policy perspective to ensure that the company can scale. As Nuro looks at policy, the company was one of the founders of the SAVE Coalition with Zoox and Local Motors.

Often new technologies that are transformational do not look like anything that came before it.

– Greg Rogers

As autonomous vehicle technology and electric vehicle battery technology merge, an opportunity arises to completely rethink the design of vehicles. This is exactly what Nuro is doing with the R2. The R2 was designed from the ground up for delivery.

In Houston, Texas, Nuro’s R2 is actively autonomously delivering pizzas through a partnership with Dominos. The R2 is bringing smiles and joy to the residents of Houston as the robot becomes part of the community.

R2 is designed to be a friendly introduction to autonomous vehicles.

– Greg Rogers

Besides pizzas, FedEx packages are being delivered in Houston with the R2. It is important to note that Nuro’s partnership with FedEx is a multi-year, multi-phase agreement that is revenue-generating for Nuro.

Since the structure of this partnership is uncommon in the autonomous vehicle industry as it is not a pilot, Grayson asks Greg how Nuro was able to secure this deal.

We have a goods-only focus. That is a benefit. We are laser-focused on delivery. The companies that we are partnering with are laser-focused on delivery as part of their business model.

Since delivery is our business as it is with our partners, we do not look at delivery as an alternative go-to-market plan. We do not look it at something that we dabble in. Our partners know that our interest unequivocally aligns with theirs.

– Greg Rogers

Shifting the conversation to a personal level, Greg discusses growing up in the Central Valley of California and the impact it had on him.

It’s ground zero for food insecurity. The breadbasket of the world is actually where a lot of people struggle with hunger.

– Greg Rogers

Wanting to pursue a career in politics, Greg moved to Washington, D.C. After quitting his job as a political consultant, Greg started driving for Lyft and Uber full-time and blogged about his experience. During these rides, Greg noticed a trend of individuals ordering rides to grocery stores. With the autonomous delivery of groceries, individuals will save money and time, all the while having a positive impact on society.

Wrapping up the conversation, Greg shares his thoughts on the future of mobility.

More mobility is a good thing.

– Greg Rogers

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Recorded on Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

The Home of Aviation Innovation

Ernest Huffman, Aviation Planning and Education Program Manager, North Central Texas Council of Governments joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why North Texas is the home of aviation innovation.

The conversation begins with Ernest sharing a story about how a high school teacher changed his life and put him on the course of becoming a pilot, which lead to a career in aviation.

Looking at [the aviation industry] from a holistic, macro perspective and my early background in doing some economist work, I think of aviation as a competitive industry, a means for folks to get out of their current situations in urban communities.

– Ernest Huffman

Putting his words into action, Ernest worked with Tuskegee NEXT to inspire at-risk youth to explore career opportunities in the aviation industry.

I had my pilot’s license before I had my driver’s license.

– Ernest Huffman

Shifting the conversation to North Texas, Grayson asks Ernest about the North Central Texas Council of Governments NASA partnership to study the potential of drone technology and integrate it into future transportation plans.

The North Texas region is emerging as the home of aviation innovation due to the economic strength and the business climate in the region.

We like the growth. We are going to keep attracting these great businesses here.

– Ernest Huffman

In February, a Bell autonomous drone successfully delivered a package at Hillwood’s AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone out of the line of sight which requires significant regulatory approval.

It is a monumental achievement. To do it in the current regulatory environment that we have for those types of flights is an achievement.

– Ernest Huffman

Looking to the future, there are plans for a more significant flight to take place in 2023. Taking it one step further, Grayson asks Ernest if there are plans to connect the DFW airport to the Dallas Cowboys football stadium with an eVTOL service. This type of experience would enhance the fan experience on GameDay for fans who fly into Dallas for the game.

That is definitely a use case that we are exploring heavily.

– Ernest Huffman

To enable this future, there has to be a public trust. The public has to trust that the eVTOL aircraft will get them there on time and safely. NCTOG is working on this issue through their Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety and Integration Initiative.

Wrapping up the conversation, Ernest shares his vision of how advanced air mobility will be rolled out in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

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Recorded on Tuesday, October 12, 2021.