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 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.

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.