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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Interacting with Law Enforcement

Brett Fabbri, Head of Law Enforcement Policy and Highway Safety, Kodiak Robotics joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss how law enforcement interacts with autonomous trucks.

The conversation begins with Brett discussing his 30-year career in law enforcement and how a ride-along with his cousin led to a career in law enforcement.

At that time I was hooked. This is great. This is a very rewarding career.

– Brett Fabbri

Law enforcement plays a key role in the local community from interacting with business owners and residents of the community to keeping the community safe while simultaneously building trust with the community.

Community engagement is the entire key to everything that law enforcement does. We are kind of guardians of the community.

– Brett Fabbri

The California Highway Patrol covers 186,000 miles. With the coverage map being so vast, engaging with the local community could be challenging, but that is not the case for the CHP. Brett explains how the California Highway Patrol interacts with the local community through area offices that function similar to local police stations.

During his time at the California Highway Patrol, Brett served as the Special Services Commander for Northern California where he oversaw the commercial enforcement unit and the motor carrier safety unit for all of Northern California. It was in this role, that Brett was first introduced to autonomous vehicles.

From the California Highway Patrol to autonomous trucks, Grayson asks Brett what he saw in the market when he decided to retire from law enforcement and join Kodiak Robotics. Brett saw the opportunity to build upon law enforcement’s mission of saving lives.

In the end, this has the potential to save lives. In my law enforcement career that is where it all starts – saving lives and now it continues on with Kodiak.

– Brett Fabbri

As Kodiak prepares to scale, the company has to build trust and credibility in the industry, the local communities and the law enforcement community where Kodiak operates. Maintaining trust is key and Brett explains how Kodiak maintain that trust using his 30-year experience in community building.

Everyday in local communities there are thousands of trucks being inspected for safety with 20% of those trucks failing inspection, creating a potential hazard on the nation’s roadways. This is a hazard that autonomous trucks will be able to solve.

We are taking all the emotion out of driving.

– Brett Fabbri

With autonomous trucks on the verge of scaling nationwide, Grayson asks Brett what his peers in law enforcement think about autonomous trucks.

They have a lot of good questions. They want to know about traffic stops, collisions and how inspections processes are going to work.

– Brett Fabbri

With lots of questions, it is important to have an open line of communication with law enforcement to ensure there are no surprises and those officers know which companies are operating autonomous trucks in their jurisdiction.

Officers need to know how to pull over an autonomous truck with no safety driver on-board. This process has to be documented by the autonomous trucking company and shared with local law enforcement where the trucks are operating.

Then there is the question of what happens if the autonomous truck is involved in a crash.

If one of our vehicles is involved in an accident, that Kodiak truck will notify the operations center that will notify law enforcement that there has been a collision. That Kodiak truck will be programed to move to the right shoulder or to a safe location, unless it becomes disabled because of the collision.

– Brett Fabbri

The amount of data the trucks gather from LiDAR, cameras and sensors will assist law enforcement when they investigate the incident. This is one of the positives that will come out of a potential crash.

To achieve all of these positives, a Law Enforcement Interaction Plan has to be developed, implemented and shared with law enforcement.

We are working with law enforcement as we develop the plan, because we want to make it a collaborative effort and we want it to be successful. We want it to be comprehensive.

– Brett Fabbri

Wrapping up the conversation, Brett discusses what has to be done from a law enforcement perspective as Kodiak scales to multiple states.

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Recorded on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Commercializing Waymo Via

Charlie Jatt, Head of Commercialization for Trucking, Waymo, joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss commercializing and scaling Waymo Via.

The conversation begins with Charlie discussing why Waymo entered the autonomous trucking industry.

The philosophy and the theory of our technology was we’re building a driver and that driver can be used for lots of different applications, different types of vehicles. The mission of the company was always to build that technology in a way that could be applied to many different exciting use cases.

It has always been on our roadmap to explore diverse applications and trucking and logistics is a huge one of those. In 2017, when we then put our first autonomous truck on the road it was the right time for us to put that theory to test.

– Charlie Jatt

As Waymo scales up autonomous trucking operations on public roads, Charlie talks about how Waymo builds public trust with the local community, law enforcement, and first responders. Waymo is also building trust with the professional truck driver community by engaging with them and learning from their millions of miles of on-road experience.

Drivers play a very critical role for us and it is going to be a partnership between autonomous technology and professional truck drivers for many years to come.

– Charlie Jatt

Shifting the conversation to commercialization and economics, Grayson and Charlie discuss autonomous trucking and its potential impact to help reduce inflation which is currently at a 40-year high.

There is a huge opportunity for autonomous trucking to increase efficiencies in the supply chain, reduce blockages in the supply chain, reduce costs and prices in the supply chain.

– Charlie Jatt

With the driver shortage, growth of e-commerce, and a strained global supply chain, the opportunity for autonomous trucking is only growing. With this growing opportunity, Grayson asks Charlie what role market conditions play as Waymo moves further towards commercialization.

They don’t necessarily play a big role in our strategic decision-making process because the time scale that we’re talking about bringing the Waymo Via technology to market, kind of sits above some of those year-over-year changes in market conditions.

– Charlie Jatt

While market conditions can be volatile, trends tend to gain traction and grow over years. One of those trends is ESG. ESG seemingly comes up in every conversation as companies are fully committed to the trend. One of those companies is J.B. Hunt, which has gone from pilot to a long-term commercial agreement with Waymo.

Charlie pulls back the curtain and tells the story of how the partnership with J.B. Hunt evolved from a pilot to Waymo’s first fully autonomous customer through an alliance that consists of four main components.

As Waymo Via scales, the company will not become a trucking company and operate its own fleet. Waymo will be commercialized as a Driver-as-a-Service model partly through partnerships with Daimler Trucks and Ryder.

Wrapping up the conversation, Charlie shares his views on how he sees the autonomous trucking industry evolving over the next 10 years.

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Recorded on Tuesday, March 15, 2022.

Our Wright Brothers Moment

Gil West, Chief Operating Officer, Cruise joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss commercializing Cruise and why it’s their Wright Brothers moment.

The conversation begins with Gil discussing Cruise’s road to commercialization.

At a high level, we are making the pivot from an R&D company to commercial operations.

– Gil West

With a background as the former COO of Delta Airlines, Gil knows how to scale complex commercial operations while ensuring world-class customer service for customers.

If you are able to run great operations, it is a real springboard for the customer experience.

– Gil West

Great customer service becomes fuel for a business and this is the path that Cruise is on as the company shifts its focus to commercializing its service. This is exactly what Delta did when the company purchased an oil refinery, introduced employee profit-sharing, stock options, and merged with Northwest Airlines.

Over time you just have to drive the results to back up your vision and that was the approach.

– Gil West

Comparing and contrasting the airline business to the autonomous vehicle business, Gil and Grayson break down the airline industry and what the autonomous vehicle industry can learn from 100+ years of operations experience.

The Cruise Origin vehicle will operate in a similar to Boeing or Airbus planes on fixed maintenance and upgrade schedules. Each Origin’s lifespan will be a million miles and after its service, the Origin will be recycled.

It was only 93 years ago that Delta operated its first commercial flight. 93 years later, Cruise autonomous vehicles are now driving around the streets of San Fransico with no driver behind the wheel. Technology has come a long way during this time and has forever changed the world.

Gil reflects on history and offers the following powerful statement:

This is our Wright Brothers moment.

– Gil West

As autonomous vehicles operations scale, the economic benefits will have a profound effect on the global economy.

I am old enough to remember the advent of personal computers. It was kind of the same thing there as people would look at it and go what does this mean, what does it mean to me, even my job. And then you realize, It’s a tool and it just drives additional productivity and I think that’s ultimately how autonomous will emerge. It just creates time advantages and productivity advantages that give us all another leg up in society.

– Gil West

When Cruise expands to new cities and scales, the company has to ensure the reliability of its service. Cruise is able to do this because of the amount of data the vehicles gather. The data gathered is used to develop extremely accurate predictive maintenance models by using machine learning.

As reliable as the airlines were, we have a chance actually to be even more reliable because of the data that we have and our ability to use it.

– Gil West

Wrapping up the conversation, Gil discusses growing up in his father’s auto parts store and what he learned during that time. Bringing the conversation full circle, Gil shares insights into what is next for Cruise.

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Recorded on Thursday, March 10, 2022.

Think Big. Do Big.

Greg Rodriguez, Mobility Policy Principal, Stantec joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss autonomous vehicle policy, federal infrastructure funding, and how both policy and funding impact the deployment of autonomous vehicles and trucks.

The conversation begins with Greg sharing his thoughts on the current state of autonomous vehicle policy at the federal level.

It changes yearly, if not daily. One word to describe it all right now, lacking.

– Greg Rodriguez

With the start, stop nature of how autonomous vehicle legislation has progressed on Capital Hill, Greg and Grayson discuss the challenges the AV industry faces from a federal policy perspective and why trust is the key to developing a national autonomous vehicle framework.

With the uncertainty of federal autonomous vehicle legislation in the United States, other countries are using this as an opportunity to leapfrog the U.S. to take the lead on AV policy. During China’s 2022 National People Congress, Chen Hong, Chairman of SAIC Motor (China’s largest automaker) put forward a proposal to clarify the legal status of autonomous driving systems with the aim of speeding up the commercialization of smart vehicles.

Will this motion motivate Congress to move on a national autonomous vehicle framework? At this time, it looks very unlikely due to the geopolitical issues the world is facing and the looming mid-term elections. More likely we will continue to see States introduce AV legislation over the course of the next three to four years.

States such as Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Texas have all enacted AV legislation. The legislation is having a positive impact on the States from an economic perspective as companies have opened offices and set up operations. Texas in particular has emerged as the home of autonomous trucking as companies flock to the State due to the freight capacity and the friendly AV regulatory environment.

Staying on the theme of autonomous trucking, Grayson and Greg discuss the role that dedicated autonomous truck toll roads that connect ports to intermodal hubs could play in the future of freight logistics.

It’s thinking about the impacts that currently exist in the way we do things and how can we minimize those impacts. It’s thinking about how we can create more efficiencies to move goods.

– Greg Rodriguez

To achieve these efficiencies, we have to think big and do big. This is exactly what Janno Lieber, CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is doing. Mr. Lieber is showing leadership by being honest about the current state of public transportation in New York City and preparing for a future where millions of riders just don’t return.

When you think big, new opportunities arise to do big. Grayson and Greg discuss new ways that MTA can offer transportation services by implementing point-to-point on-demand mobility services.

The more mobility options that we can provide people access to, the more likelihood people will realize, oh wow I do not need to own my car anymore.

– Greg Rodriguez

Mobility options offer choice. Choice gives consumers the ability to choose which mobility service works best for them and their families. At the end of the day, consumers will end up determining the future of mobility as it will be driven by consumer spending.

Wrapping up the conversation, Greg shares his vision for the future of mobility.

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Recorded on Monday, March 7, 2022.

Investing in The Future

Reilly Brennan, General Partner, Trucks VC joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss investing in the future.

The conversation begins with Reilly and Grayson discussing what is going to happen when consolidation begins in the autonomous vehicle industry.

This is a period of consolidation because you have essentially a lot of the robo-taxi ideas turned into commercial applications, probably around logistics and parcels.

– Reilly Brennan

Then there are the startups such as Bear Flag Robotics (acquired by John Deere – August 2021) and Gatik that have been focused on specific applications since day one. Shifting the conversation to industrial use cases, Grayson asks Reilly what his thoughts are on the industrial market as it relates to autonomy.

One of those specific industrial markets is mining. With global mining companies hitting record profits and Rio Tinto recently announcing a $7.7 billion half-year dividend, Grayson asks Reilly if a global mining company could potentially acquire an autonomy startup.

No doubt. Electrification and AV to those specific players is as much on their mind as the way you would think about DHL, UPS, Amazon, etc adding autonomy and electrification to theirs. It’s just a component of how they make money or will make more money in the future.

– Reilly Brennan

There is a growing segment of the startup market has is beginning to focus on the opportunities in the industrial market. One aspect of the startup industrial market that is booming is the autonomous trucking industry.

The autonomous trucking industry is generating revenue and shoring up the supply chain through automation, as consumers battle ever-increasing inflation. Reilly rightly points out that this industry is heavily dependent on partnerships to scale and return capital to shareholders and investors.

One of the key partnerships in the future will be railroads. Grayson makes a prediction that in the next 18 to 24 months, a railroad will buy an autonomous trucking company.

Another segment of the industrial market is maritime. Looking at investment opportunities in the space, Reilly is currently studying hydrography and shipping routes. There is an emerging opportunity to map waterways which will increase shipping efficiencies.

The depths within ports can change so much that it impacts how much payload you can take.

– Reilly Brennan

As maritime shipping routes get optimized, it’s time to allow autonomous trucks to enter and operate at ports.

The partnership dynamics of autonomous trucking is arguably one of the most important parts of the business. In fact, we have seen some of the logistics companies take investments from entities that own or have access to those ports for that specific reason.

It’s a fundamental question that there is not any one company, even Waymo that can lay claim to a leadership position for those specific pickup points. That is a big opportunity and in fact, it’s probably more important than saying you are running 10,000 trips a day on this route in Texas.

If someone came to us and said if I secured the access to these specific vital ports in the United States, I think that is actually saying something a great deal.

– Reilly Brennan

Staying on the topic of Waymo, Grayson asks Reilly if Waymo will eventually split into two separate companies: Waymo Via focused on autonomous trucking and Waymo One focused on autonomous vehicles.

It has always been a question in my mind whether we were at the point in this area of autonomy where you could have a multi-silhouette autonomy company.

– Reilly Brennan

Is Waymo the only company that could pull off a multi-silhouette approach to autonomy, because of Alphabet’s continued long-term financing commitment? It looks that way as Aurora has seemingly shifted a majority of its focus to autonomous trucking.

For companies that don’t have a Google as a supporter and an investor, I think you probably have to pick one thing you are world-class in.

– Reilly Brennan

Without an Alphabet-like financing partner, does Aurora get to a crossroads where they decide to sell off their autonomous vehicle division and focus solely on trucking? It’s a possibility as the autonomous vehicle market is beginning to consolidate around Argo AI, Cruise, and Waymo.

Then there is May Mobility which is focused on structured routes. Pick-up and drop-offs from airports are a huge opportunity that the autonomous vehicle industry is currently not exploiting. The true opportunity for airports and AVs is in resort towns with limited traffic and high-amounts of passenger traffic during predefined periods of time throughout the year.

Looking at the overall investment landscape, Reilly shares a story and his insights into how the team at Trucks VC uncovers potential investment opportunities.

When we look at companies, we tend to not really look for ideas, we kind of just wait for great founders to reveal something to us and then we get onboard.

– Reilly Brennan

Wrapping up the conversation, Reilly and Grayson discuss the circular economy and the future of electric vehicles.

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Recorded on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.