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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The Growing Autonomous Vehicle Industry in Texas

Thomas Bamonte, Senior Program Manager, Automated Vehicles, North Central Texas Council of Governments joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the growing autonomous trucking and autonomous vehicle industries in Texas.

The conversation begins with Tom discussing how he first became interested in autonomous vehicles. In 2006, Tom wrote an article about merging the best of highway transportation and transit through autonomous vehicles.

Little did Tom know at the time, but this article would go on to have a profound effect on his career. After writing the article, Tom started attending conferences and became one of the earliest individuals discussing the positive impact that autonomy will have on society.

Being based in the Dallas Fort Worth Region, Tom has a front-row seat to autonomy as the region is emerging as the home of autonomous trucking. The geographical features of the region are land, land, and more land. With these geographical features, Tom explains why the region has openly embraced autonomous trucking.

We are a large inland port and we have to be extra scrappy because we do not have a river or a seaport, we just have land. We have to be extra innovative and extra supportive of our freight partners.

– Thomas Bamonte

The region is part of the Texas Triangle and the home to DFW (Dallas Fort Worth International Airport) which is a major cargo hub. The airport has a yearly $20 billion economic impact on the North Texas Region. With welcoming State and Regional Governments, a major cargo hub, and freight companies located in the region, the area is well-positioned to fully embrace the future of autonomous trucking.

We are well situated at the apex of the Texas triangle to host freight operations. It’s a great central U.S. location where AV freight can reach basically all of the country within a reasonable amount of time.

– Thomas Bamonte

As the Texas population continues to grow as individuals and families relocate from other States, Grayson asks Tom how the North Central Texas Council of Governments is continuing to drive the economic growth from autonomous vehicle companies relocating to the region.

We are investing in our AV 2.0 program. We’re advancing six automated vehicle deployments and we’re moving from thinking of deployments as individual exercises. We are trying to build a regional AV program that has everything from sidewalk delivery bots. We are investing in what may become the nation’s first automated truck port. That is one of the six projects.

We are signaling through our investments that we are open for business and willing to effectively partner with our private sector AV developer partners.

– Thomas Bamonte

Expanding the conversation to other regions of Texas, Grayson asks Tom about Argo AI’s deployment in Austin and Nuro’s deployment in Houston.

All of the Texas cities are evolving into very diverse AV environments.

– Thomas Bamonte

When Drive AI operated a self-driving passenger service for the public in Frisco and Arlington, Texas in 2018 and 2019, they interacted with the community and did outreach to the local community to encourage future engineers to learn about the technology. The community/school outreach program was a tremendous success with Tom summing it up as a Norman Rockwell moment.

With the AV 2.0 plan, NCTCOG has partnered with Dallas College to stand up and invest in an AV-oriented curriculum with a focus on trucking and autonomy. Additionally, NCTCOG organized the North Texas Center For Mobility Technologies.

We are looking for every opportunity to work with the AV companies to develop the curriculum and engage with the next generation of workers in the transportation and related sectors.

– Thomas Bamonte

Shifting the conversation to autonomy and urban environments, Tom shares his thoughts on what autonomous passenger vehicle and delivery deployments will look like in the future.

I can see delivery expanding from individual items to experiences and a richer sort of interaction, instead of just having stuff dropped off.

– Thomas Bamonte

With the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers being located in the Dallas Forth Worth region, there is a tremendous opportunity for bespoke day-of-game autonomous vehicle experiences.

Wrapping up the conversation, Tom makes the case on why autonomous vehicle and autonomous trucking companies should consider expanding to Texas.

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Recorded on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

The World Runs on Arm

Robert Day, Director, Autonomous Vehicles, Arm joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why the world runs on Arm.

The conversation begins with Robert discussing Arm’s partnership approach and how over 190 billion devices around the world contain Arm-based chips.

It’s really all about the partnership approach. It’s all about working with our silicon partners and giving them the right technology to allow them to address the different markets they want to put their silicon into.

– Robert Day

Focusing on Arm’s partnership approach, Robert discusses how Arm was able to ship a record 7.3 billion Arm-based chips in Q4 2020 as the global markets faced a supply chain crunch.

Our partners like to work with us because we are continuously innovating.

– Robert Day

Shifting the conversation to autonomous vehicles, Grayson asks Robert when and why did Arm first enter the autonomous vehicle industry. Arm has been in the automotive industry for a long time. Building upon this experience, Arm expanded into the autonomous vehicle industry as companies prepare for the mass deployment of autonomous vehicles as they will need great silicon.

As autonomous vehicle companies such as Cruise actively prepare for the commercialization of their service, Grayson asks Robert if custom chip architectures are currently being developed for autonomous vehicles.

Whether people will develop custom silicon to do it, I do not know. As they get closer to deployment, it’s what is available. What is out there? It costs a lot of money to develop a custom chip. If our silicon partners have the right SOCs based on our technology, they will probably just pick those up off the shelves.

There might be certain applications, there might be certain parts of the vehicle that may be doing sensor intelligence where they might want to do some of their own silicon. At the moment you have to get closer to the actual deployment before it will be obvious which way people will go.

– Robert Day

Taking a look at the autonomous vehicle industry as a whole, Robert shares his thoughts on the current state of the autonomous vehicle market. The adoption of autonomous vehicles will come down to trust. Grayson and Robert go on to discuss how brands and experiences and help to develop trust with autonomous vehicles.

When developing relationships and engaging with the autonomous vehicle industry, Arm asks the following:

What do you need in order to make autonomy deployable? Mass deployable.

– Robert Day

Arm has been having these discussions for years as Arm considers autonomous vehicles a growth market.

It really is an industry and a market that we want to make sure that Arm is front and center in.

– Robert Day

As society begins to shift to electric vehicles and the autonomous vehicle industry embraces electrification, Arm is well-positioned as the company specializes in low-power, high-performance chips.

Energy efficiency, thermal efficiency, it will all be really important for deployment. Especially in vehicles that are fit-for-purpose or vehicles that we actually drive as higher levels of autonomy come into them.

– Robert Day

With higher levels of autonomy, safety is paramount. Robert discusses Arm’s commitment to functional safety and why it is mission-critical for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles.

Putting the entire conversation into context, Grayson asks Robert what role he sees Arm playing in the autonomous vehicle ecosystem as the industry matures.

It’s all about deployability and what’s required for autonomous vehicles to be deployed.

– Robert Day

Wrapping up the conversation, Robert shares the story of how he first became interested in autonomous vehicles. It all started with an episode of Knight Rider. Grayson expands the conversation into the role popular culture will play in the adoption of this technology and why in the future there will be an Elvis autonomous vehicle service in Las Vegas.

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Recorded on Tuesday May 25, 2021.

Simulation First Approach to Autonomy

Qasar Younis, CEO & Co-Founder, and Peter Ludwig, CTO & Co-Founder, Applied Intuition joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss simulation and why a simulation first approach to autonomy is key to building and scaling autonomous vehicles.

The conversation begins with Qasar talking about what the marketplace looked like when he co-founded Applied Intuition with Peter in 2017. This was the same year that Waymo began testing autonomous minivans in Chandler, Arizona without a safety driver on public roads. Reflecting on this, Peter shares his take on the marketplace.

Generally speaking, there is not really winner take all dynamics in the automotive ecosystem. There is always going to be many companies. There are going to be many players, [with] Waymo being sort of in front in autonomy technology. What is great for Applied is that they are showing the world what is possible and that we are building tools which frankly enable any automotive company to compete at that level.

– Peter Ludwig

Qasar expands upon this to share his perspective on how the autonomous vehicle industry operated in 2016, 2017.

In 2016, 2017 the only pattern was the Waymo pattern. Which is raise tons of money and build everything in house. That’s just not the case anymore. I do not think there a single sophisticated in-house sim team that isn’t also working with somebody in some capacity that is not inside.

– Qasar Younis

Building upon this, Qasar dives into the economics of build versus buy and why it makes economic sense to buy instead of building in-house simulation tools. With technology advancements over the past four and a half years and new powerful chips being introduced, Applied has been able to close the sim to real gap.

You want simulation to be as close as possible to the real-world performance of the system, while still being cost-effective to run.

– Peter Ludwig

As Applied matures as a company, the company has begun to assume a leadership position in the autonomous vehicle industry. Applied has recently published their Best Practices for The Testing and Deployment of Autonomous Vehicles guide that can be downloaded here.

In the guide, Applied summarizes best practices for the testing and development of autonomous vehicles. It is an important guide that can be incorporated into your development workflow today.

Our goal of the company is to move the entire autonomy ecosystem forward.

– Qasar Younis

Taking a step back for a moment, Qasar discusses simulation and references an interview where a Waymo Senior Director of Product Management stated that simulation is roughly responsible for 80 to 85% of their progress.

Fundamentally there are many things that you cannot test safely in the real world that are necessary for ensuring the safe operation of the vehicle. You can model those scenarios in simulation.

– Peter Ludwig

In a 2018 interview with Bloomberg, Peter spoke to Mark Bergen about scenarios. Grayson asks Peter how the team comes up with scenarios to model in simulation. Taking it to a local level, Grayson shares several scenarios and Peter explains how simulation can help to prepare autonomous vehicles for those ODDs (Operational Design Domains).

Shifting the conversation from autonomous vehicles to autonomous trucks, Grayson asks Peter what are the main differences between simulation for autonomous vehicles and autonomous trucks. Peter explains in-depth how there is a large difference in the approach to simulation for trucks due to the fact the way trucks are built and how they are driven.

While there are different forms of simulation, Applied has been solely focused on autonomy since day one.

Fundamentally we think that the autonomous industry will be very, very large. We believe that everything that moves will be autonomous. We want to enable that reality.

– Qasar Younis

Expanding different forms of simulation, Peter explains how Applied’s simulation platform differs from a system designed to generate images for movies and video games.

Wrapping up the conversation, Qasar and Peter discuss why everything that moves will be autonomous.

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Recorded on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

If You Bought It, A Truck Brought It

Robert Brown, Senior Director of External Affairs, TuSimple, Jordan Coleman, General Counsel & Vice President of Policy, Kodiak Robotics, and Jonny Morris, Head of Public Policy & Communications, Embark Trucks joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the current state of the autonomous trucking industry.

The conversation begins with Robert Brown sharing his thoughts on the current state of the autonomous trucking industry from a policy perspective.

We are doing quite well as an industry. It is a testament to the core folks that work in this industry. We work very closely at a State and Local level in all of the States that we operate in. We all come from the adage that we do not like to surprise anyone.

– Robert Brown

Expanding upon Robert’s comments, Jordan talks about the efforts that are being made around education and building trust with elected officials and regulators.

Trust is absolutely paramount in this industry. Showing that deep commitment to engagement on a State, Regional and Local level. As well as that deep commitment to building those relationships first.

– Jordan Coleman

Rounding out the conversation about the current state of autonomous trucking, Jonny shares a detailed overview of policy and the regulatory environment.

Even though autonomous trucking is cutting-edge technology, it is an emerging industry. We are not entering into a blank slate from a regulatory environment perspective. There are plenty of requirements, rules, authorities that exist in the trucking industry today.

– Jonny Morris

Putting the regulatory environment into perspective, Grayson asks Robert why Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are emerging as the leading hubs for the testing and deployment of autonomous trucking.

It has a lot to do with the regulatory environment. All three States now have legislation on the books that allows [autonomous trucking] testing and deployment.

– Robert Brown

In January 2021, Kodiak successfully completed a disengage-free customer delivery from Dallas to Houston, Texas. Grayson asks Jordan how the company prepared for the run from a policy perspective. Jordan explains that before Kodiak started operations in Texas, the company met Governor Abbot’s office, State Legislators in both chambers, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the State Highway Patrol, and regional and local partners.

Shifting the conversation to California, Jonny talks about the importance of the California market for autonomous trucks and what the current state of autonomous trucking policy looks like in California. Robert chimes in about his love of living in San Diego and why autonomous trucking will create new high-paying jobs in California.

Looking at the priorities of the Governor and the California State Legislature, Jonny explains why the autonomous trucking industry is aligned with California’s goals on climate change and emissions.

Automation is something that can be adapted for any drivetrain, whether it’s diesel, natural gas, or electric vehicles. Furthermore what we have seen is that automation can take any drivetrain and make it more efficient because it is a more efficient driver than a human driver.

– Jonny Morris

With the electrification goals of California, Grayson asks Jordan if Class 8 trucks will ever become electric.

It’s absolutely a when, not an if.

– Jordan Coleman

As Jonny and Jordan clearly explained, the autonomous trucking industry is clearly aligned with the goals of California. With California’s unemployment rate currently holding at 8.3%, Robert talks about the positive economic impacts that autonomous trucking will have on the State and the new high-paying jobs that this industry will create.

If California does this, it is a true game changer from an economics perspective.

– Robert Brown

Highlighting the U.S. Department of Transportation VOLPE Macroeconomic Impacts of Automated Driving Systems in Long-Haul Trucking study as an example, Robert explains why autonomous trucking will create new high-paying jobs and have economic benefits on the U.S. economy.

With the industry projected to have a positive economic impact on the U.S. economy the group discusses how the industry interacts with lawmakers and regulators on a federal level. Jonny addresses the misnomers around what the autonomous truck industry does and does not need from a regulatory and legislative standpoint.

[There is a misnomer] that this is the wild west and there are no rules for autonomous trucks. The fact of the matter is that the trucking industry is heavily regulated at the federal level.

– Jonny Morris

Staying on the theme of misnomers, Jonny, Robert, and Jordan all address the workforce issue and clearly explain that if you are a truck driver today, you can retire a truck driver. There is an enormous need for high-quality truck drivers today partly due to the increase in e-commerce.

If you bought it, it’s been on a truck.

– Jordan Coleman

With e-commerce projected to grow another 18% in 2021, Robert and Jordan discuss how autonomous trucking is working to shore up the e-commerce supply chain.

All commerce is becoming e-commerce. It is all being shipped and it is all being shipped via truck. That only underscores the critical need for this technology.

– Jordan Coleman

Another critical need for this technology is for the shipping of fresh fruits and vegetables as The World Bank is projecting the global population to be 9.7 billion by 2050. Jordan, Jonny, and Robert discuss how autonomous trucks can reduce food spoilage and increase access to healthy foods.

Wrapping up the conversation, Jonny, Jordan, and Robert share their thoughts on the positive impact that autonomous trucking will have on society.

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Recorded on Monday, June 14, 2021.

Building Better Basics: City of San José

Jordan Sun, Chief Innovation Officer, City of San José joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss building better basics in the City of San José through innovation and technology.

The conversation begins with Jordan discussing his time serving two tours of duty (2012 and 2020) in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. Comparing and contrasting his experiences, Jordan talks about his time and what he learned during each tour of duty. During his 2020 tour of duty, Jordan and his team built and shipped a software product from the battlefield.

Continuing to serve his country, Jordan serves as a Tech Scout for the U.S. Army where he develops and builds relationships with innovative companies in Silicon Valley.

I am interested in all things tech-related.

– Jordan Sun

During his stint at the U.S. State Department, Jordan continued to study international relations. Putting all of his skills to work from his time in the military, finance, and diplomacy, Jordan joined the City of San José in 2020 as Chief Innovation Officer to make a difference.

What attracted me initially was, the pandemic hit, I spent most of my service overseas when I served. I really didn’t feel like I did enough for the community. Sometimes I would scratch my head and was like well what could I actually do tangibly to change someone’s life in terms of here in America.

– Jordan Sun

After his first meeting with the Mayor and being unable to sleep that night, Jordan knew that he had to step up and make a difference for the community of San José.

If not me then who, and if it is me, I need to put skin in the game and give it a try.

– Jordan Sun

In November 2020, The Center for Digital Government announced that the City of San José was named the nation’s most innovative local Government. Being extremely humble, Jordan talks about how it was a team effort to the recognition and how it’s merely just a starting point to where the City wants to go in the future.

Looking to the future, Grayson asks Jordan how the City is working to bridge the digital divide. In the latest budget, the Mayor directed $10 million dollars to improve broadband connectivity for residents of San José.

With a City of over 1 million residents, Grayson asks Jordan how he is approaching innovation.

It’s about getting to more tangible outcomes.

– Jordan Sun

Jordan looks at every digital service/website that the City builds as a product and how the residents of San José will interact with it and use the product. This philosophy ties directly into Jordan’s Three Pillars of a Smart City: Data, Digital Product/Engagement, IoT Network which he discusses in depth.

Shifting the conversation to mobility, Grayson asks Jordan what role mobility will play in his vision of a City of the Future. Mobility is just not the movement of passengers, it is the moment of goods. Mobility will also have a positive impact on health care as society shifts to autonomous vehicles.

With 50 companies currently testing in California, Grayson asks Jordan about the City’s relationship with the autonomous vehicle industry.

There is a very healthy relationship.

– Jordan Sun

Looking to the current trend of privacy, Grayson asks Jordan what the City is doing to ensure the privacy of its residents as they embrace and deploy new technologies.

We have a foundational privacy policy that protects our residents that lays the groundwork and lays the commitment by the City for us to understand privacy as it pertains to not just surveillance, but overall.

– Jordan Sun

Wrapping up the conversation, Jordan discusses the big issues that the City is going to tackle as the world emerges from the global pandemic.

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Recorded on Friday, May 21, 2021.