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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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.

The World’s First Publicly Traded Autonomous Vehicle Company: TuSimple

Cheng Lu, President & CEO, TuSimple joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss taking TuSimple public and the company’s plans for growth.

The conversation begins with Cheng discussing why TuSimple chose to go public as a traditional IPO rather than a SPAC and what the journey was like to become the world’s first publicly traded autonomous vehicle company.

We priced above our range. We raised $1.3 billion dollars as a company. We have a market cap of $8 billion dollars.

– Cheng Lu

Taking a step back, Grayson asks Cheng about his time studying the economics of online platforms at the University of Virginia. At that time, Facebook was beginning to grow into an enterprise and the age of online platforms was about to change the world with the introduction of Uber, Lyft, and delivery services.

Thinking about what happens in the next 10, 20, 30 years, it’s safe to say that it will be the age of artificial intelligence. Autonomous driving is certainly one of the hardest use cases, but one of the biggest opportunities. Autonomous trucking is a massive opportunity.

– Cheng Lu

Comparing and contrasting the rapid growth of Facebook, Grayson asks Cheng how he is preparing for the growth of TuSimple’s Autonomous Freight Network (AFN).

At the heart of TuSimple, we are an artificial intelligence software company. We are building the most advanced Level 4 autonomous driving system. We are also building the hardware in conjunction with our OEM Tier 1 partners.

– Cheng Lu

The AFN will be TuSimple’s 5G network and their purpose-built autonomous trucks will be their 5G phones.

Shifting the conversation to the supply chain, Grayson and Cheng discuss how autonomous trucks can shore up the supply chain. They discuss the relationship between autonomous trucking and railroads (including TuSimple investor Union Pacific) and how these two industries will complement each other to the benefit of society.

We have the opportunity to help enable new freight capacity to address the supply chain constraints.

– Cheng Lu

Doing things the right way is a common trait for TuSimple. The company has a partnership with Navistar to develop automotive-grade autonomous trucks that are manufactured in a factory and are not retrofitted.

If you want to scale autonomous freight operations you have to have purpose-built trucks that are factory-produced.

– Cheng Lu

With 6,775 reservations for factory-built TuSimple autonomous trucks, Grayson asks Cheng how his customers are planning to use these trucks. Customers are looking to use their new autonomous trucks for long-haul applications.

Staying on the topic of orders, Grayson asks Cheng what is TuSimple’s business model for the trucks and how will TuSimple manage and monetize the trucks once they are sold to customers.

When a customer buys a truck from Navistar that is powered by the TuSimple Autonomous Driving System, the customer will subscribe to TuSimple Path, which is a per-mile subscription.

– Cheng Lu

TuSimple has been focused on autonomous trucking since day one. Grayson asks Cheng why the company made the decision to focus on trucking from day one and why they did not divert their attention to robo-taxis.

The number one thing to get adoption into a very disruptive technology is are you providing something of value to the existing key stakeholders. Autonomous trucking checks all of those marks.

– Cheng Lu

As seen in a 60 Minutes episode, TuSimple has a culture of safety that is built around the company’s core five values. The company also has a culture of transparency. Cheng discusses why this is important and why the company focuses on safety and transparency. This culture will play a vital role as TuSimple prepares for driver-out runs which will be revenue-generating runs and not demos.

TuSimple is the only company that has demonstrated the ability to drive on not only highways but surface streets.

– Cheng Lu

Wrapping up the conversation, Cheng discusses TuSimple’s partnership with McLane, a Berkshire Hathaway company.

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Recorded on Friday, May 14, 2021.

The Geopolitics of the Global Mineral Supply Chain

Mark P. Mills, Senior Fellow Manhattan Institute, Faculty Fellow Northwestern University School of Engineering, and Partner in Montrose Lane, an Energy-Tech Venture Fund joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the geopolitics of the global mineral supply chain.

The conversation begins with Mark discussing his review of the book Unsettled by Physicist Steven Koonin in the Wall Street Journal and how it led to the Manhattan Institute’s Facebook page being temporarily suspended. Grayson raises the point about debates and how debates were instrumental in the founding of The United States.

Shifting gears, Grayson asks Mark about his time as a physicist at Bell Northern Research and at the RCA David Sarnoff Research Center.

RCA was then the company of consequence. RCA was the company that did as much for communications as Apple and Google and Cisco and others of the modern era did back then.

– Mark P. Mills

With everything becoming more efficient, crypto mining farms popping up everywhere, and more electric vehicles coming online daily, Grayson asks Mark if the world has enough electricity to support the increased energy demand. We currently produce enough, but that could change in the future.

The single most important thing about electricity is not how you make it. That is derivative. It’s how you make it to support the two objectives which is: As I need it at scale, the price matters, because the more of it you use, you want it to be cheaper, not more expensive. And, I want to have the electricity when I need it.

– Mark P. Mills

Mark goes on to discuss the history of the energy grid and how the grid is a series of networked grids. With the colonial pipeline having been recently hacked, Grayson asks Mark how secure the electric grid is today and what can be done to secure the grid from potential cyber-attacks.

The electric grid is remarkably secure, currently.

– Mark P. Mills

Staying on the topic of resources and what is need to ensure that energy can continue to flow uninterrupted, Grayson asks Mark what happened in 1990 that led The United States to lose its position as the world’s number-one producer of minerals. This was caused by regulation and the political environment at that time. Sensing an opportunity, China expanded its mining and refining capabilities.

China is the world’s biggest refiner of critical minerals.

– Mark P. Mills

The United States is 100% dependent on the importation of 17 key minerals and imports over half of its needs for another 29 minerals. These minerals are needed for electric vehicles. At this time, The United States does not have a secure supply chain for electric vehicles.

This raises the question of how can The United States transition to an all-electric vehicle future when the supply chain is controlled by a geopolitical foe, China?

If your energy system is dependent on a handful of supply chain routes and a hand full of supply chain suppliers, if anything happened that took that handful out, there is a massive impact. You do not have optionality. You do not have optionality at any price.

– Mark P. Mills

The supply chain for minerals is volatile with Chile, China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo controlling the mineral supply chain and mineral refining. With a lack of new mines coming online and limited access to copper and minerals, Mark explains what the economic impact would be on the economy.

Every single feature of the minerals world relevant to energy is on track to rising, not declining prices.

– Mark P. Mills

After focusing on the economics of minerals and the impact of the supply chain, Grayson and Mark discuss mining minerals and how minerals are mined.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Mark discuss why the geopolitical issues of the mineral supply chain are not broadly discussed. Securing the mineral supply chain for electric vehicles is the only way to ensure the adoption of electric vehicles.

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Recorded on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

The Crucial Role Memory Plays in Automotive

Robert Bielby, Senior Director of Automotive System Architecture & Segment Marketing, Micron joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the crucial role that memory plays in automotive.

With the automotive industry focused on electrification and statements made by Jim Farley, CEO of Ford, and Bryan Salesky, Co-Founder & CEO of Argo AI about the computer power needed for self-driving cars, Grayson asks Robert to share his thoughts on how to best optimize for energy efficiency in autonomous vehicles.

We are focused on how do we optimize power consumption.

– Robert Bielby

With over 30 years of experience in automotive, Micron currently has a 40% market share for memory. As we look to the next 30 years, Micron is focused on growing that market share.

We continue to make the investments because for Micron automotive is an important market.

– Robert Bielby

60% of Micron’s automotive business is centered around in-vehicle experiences. Infotainment and in-vehicle experiences are becoming the most important features for consumers.

Customers are making their purchasing decisions based upon the cockpit, and features and the functionality and the cool displays.

– Robert Bielby

When SAE Level 4 and 5 autonomy is achieved, Grayson asks Robert what experiences will look like in autonomous vehicles.

This is definitely going to be an element that is going to define the brand identity of the vehicle. A Ford is going to look a certain way, a BMW is going to look a certain way. You will make purchasing decisions on I can connect to Apple or Android. I can answer emails, I can edit word documents, excel spreadsheets.

– Robert Bielby

While memory will enable great in-vehicle experiences, memory will also increase safety in the vehicle. Memory will help to enable occupant detection that can enable air conditioning to turn on if a child is left unattended in a vehicle during a hot day.

Staying on the theme of safety, Grayson and Robert discuss augmented reality and how it can be used to build trust with adaptive cruise control.

Micron has 13 customer labs around the globe where they work with customers to optimize memory performance for their automotive applications. The company also has a partnershiip with Nvidia where they are jointly working to enable “True AI”.

The impact that memory has on system performance can and will be profound.

– Robert Bielby

Robert expands upon the conversation with a dive deep into AI and what he expects to see in the future as AI begins to be fully integrated into the vehicle experience.

The expectation is that the vehicle is a natural extension of my lifestyle.

– Robert Bielby

With everything being connected and the vehicle being an extension of consumers lifestyles, Grayson and Robert discuss security. How verification will work and what role memory plays in securing the experience and paying for services such as gas using the infotainment system.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Robert discuss functional safety and the ISO 26262 safety standard.

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Recorded on Tuesday May 4, 2021.