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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Insuring Autonomous Vehicles

Mike Stankard, Managing Director, Automotive Practice, Aon joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss insuring autonomous vehicles.

The conversation begins with Mike sharing his thoughts on the current state of the insurance market for autonomous vehicles.

Overall, it’s pretty healthy.

– Mike Stankard

The right insurance policy for autonomous vehicle companies is absolutely critical. As AV companies move from testing and development to commercialization their insurance needs will change as the risk will change when paying passengers are involved.

The risk profile of that vehicle raises dramatically when you move to that next step.

– Mike Stankard

When AV companies are ready to take the next step and commercialize their service, the insurance markets are comfortable with insuring the risk as the technology has matured. The insurance markets are comfortable with insuring delivery, trucking, and passenger autonomous vehicle companies.

The insurance for autonomous vehicle companies also carries over to directors and officers liability insurance when AV companies decide to go public.

When a private company goes public, the risks that the directors, officers, investors, and other stakeholders are exposed to are substantially increased when you are going to be making a public offering.

– Mike Stankard

If the board of an AV company decides not to go public but instead accepts an offer to be acquired by another company, a new insurance program is developed to manage those risks. Managing risks throughout the lifecycle of an AV company is extremely important as it will ensure that the company is not blindsided by a risk that could be insured.

For AV companies that are younger and are in the process of raising their Series B round, it is important to start a risk management program as the risk profile of the company will change.

One of the biggest risks in a rapidly growing company is attracting and retaining top talent.

– Mike Stankard

The insurance policies that are written for autonomous vehicle companies are bespoke and unique to a company’s operations and overall risk profile. Inside the insurance industry, there are several companies that have dedicated teams focused solely on autonomous vehicles.

In the long run, all humans are going to have interaction with autonomous vehicles.

– Mike Stankard

Having dedicated teams focused on AVs allows the insurance companies to better understand the risk and how to price it. The trend of dedicated teams specializing in this technology will only increase as the technology matures and AV companies increase the size of their deployments.

Wrapping up the conversation, Mike and Grayson discuss the future of the insurance business as it directly relates to autonomous vehicles.

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Recorded on Tuesday, September 7, 2021.

AllianceTexas: Developing The Future

Ian Kinne, Director, Logistics Innovation, Hillwood joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss AllianceTexas and the Mobility Innovation Zone.

The conversation begins with Ian describing the vision behind Hillwood’s AllianceTexas development, a 27,000-acre development that has generated $92 billion in economic impact and created over 63,000 jobs in just 30 years.

Our platform grew from being a land development company to an industrial development company to a mixed-use development company which is now Alliance.

– Ian Kinne

With Texas seeing unprecedented growth of companies either expanding or relocating their headquarters, there is still room to grow at Alliance as the development is only about 50% built-out. Alliance was built around innovation as Hillwood made the decision early on to embrace fiber connectivity due to the leadership of the Perot family.

The Perot family is incredibly forward thinking.

– Ian Kinne

With Amazon operating a regional air hub, FedEx operating a regional sort hub, UPS operating a ground hub, and BNSF operating an intermodal hub at Alliance, Ian has incredible insight into the global supply chain. With this insight, Grayson asks Ian what he is seeing in the supply chain.

The past 18 months really exposed some challenges in the global supply chain.

– Ian Kinne

While the global supply chain faces challenges today, there is another challenge on the horizon — the truck driver shortage. This is where autonomous trucking comes into play as the technology will help to shore up the global supply chain. TuSimple recently opened their 2nd Texas autonomous trucking depot which will be part of their Autonomous Freight Network (AFN) at Alliance.

With the autonomous trucking industry actively expanding to the Dallas / Fort Worth region, Grayson asks Ian why Hillwood decided to embrace autonomous trucking early on.

We saw long-haul trucking leading the adoption of autonomy.

– Ian Kinne

Autonomous trucking will complement the rail industry as the consumer demand for goods continues to rise. Ian and Grayson go on to discuss how these two industries will work together and why Alliance is well-positioned to embrace this soon-to-be emerging trend from an infrastructure standpoint.

Wrapping up the conversation, Ian and Grayson discuss the Mobility Innovation Zone and how Alliance is planning for the next 30 years.

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Recorded on Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

Big Dreams, Big Idea: Zoox

Bert Kaufman, Head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs, Zoox joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss big dreams, big ideas, and the role that policy plays in the future of autonomous vehicles.

The conversation begins with Bert discussing his experience serving as a Senior Advisor in Secretary Penny Pritzker’s Office of Business Liaison inside of the Department of Commerce during the Obama Administration.

Public service is really important. If people have the opportunity in their careers or lives to serve the public in shape or form, take it seriously, think about it, consider it. It can be incredibly rewarding.     

– Bert Kaufman

Bert served for a little over two-and-half years during the second term of the Obama Administration in the Department of Commerce. During his tenure in Government, he helped launch the Presidential Ambassadors Global Entrepreneurship program that exported innovation from Silicon Valley to the rest of the United States and the World.

It was during his time in Government that Bert took his first ride in a self-driving car when Google invited him to take a ride in one of their self-driving Lexus’ on a highway outside of Washington, D.C. in 2014. The ride in the self-driving Lexus would change Bert’s life and become a defining moment for him.

It was one of those moments where you are like, yeah, everything is going to change with this technology.

– Bert Kaufman

In 2016, Bert left the Administration and moved out to Silicon Valley with the hope and dream of joining something early on that would solve bring problems for the world.

I am a problem solver. I am really really driven by helping to solve big problems for society.

– Bert Kaufman

It was the big idea that is the Zoox vision and the idea that this vision could increase safety and have a positive impact on society is what ultimately attracted Bert to the company. The Zoox vision of developing technology for the right reasons is as strong today as it was when Bert first joined in 2016.

It’s not developing technology for technology’s sake. What is the reason why the technology is being developed? Who is it for? At Zoox the vision is for it is for everyone. It’s for the world.

– Bert Kaufman

As Zoox prepares to deploy their beautifully designed purpose-built vehicles in cities around the world, policy moves to front and center in the conversation as currently there is no national autonomous vehicle framework in the United States.

With no national autonomous vehicle framework, the regulation of the industry is falling to the State and local level. Each State seemingly has a different policy and certain cities/counties are trying to enact their own policies to the detriment of their local constitutes. Still, the industry is progressing forward as autonomous technology will save lives and reduce crashes around the world, all the while having a positive impact on society.

One of the key differentiators of Zoox is the rider experience. The rider experience is prominently featured in Khalid’s New Normal music video. With the music industry embracing autonomous vehicles, Grayson and Bert discuss hip-hop culture and what the autonomous vehicle industry can learn from artists.

Wrapping up the conversation, Bert and Grayson discuss why electrification was core to the Zoox idea from day one and when Zoox will begin to commercialize their service.

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Recorded on Thursday, August 12, 2021.

The Platform For Autonomy

Danny Shapiro, Vice President, Automotive, NVIDIA joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why NVIDIA is the platform for enabling autonomy.

The conversation begins with Grayson and Danny discussing how NVIDIA developed the platform for autonomous vehicles and why NVIDIA first entered the automotive market.

We’ve created an open platform. It’s an accelerated computing platform for autonomous vehicles.

– Danny Shapiro

In 1999, NVIDIA invented the GPU to overcome performance bottlenecks of the CPU.

Think of it as lanes on a highway, where a CPU maybe would be a dual-core or quad-core. It would have two lanes or four lanes for data to travel. The GPU has thousands of lanes. A highway with a thousand lanes is going to accommodate a lot more traffic.

– Danny Shapiro

With over 370 automakers, tier 1 suppliers, developers, and researchers as partners, NVIDIA is playing a crucial role in ushering in the future of autonomy. A lot more goes into an autonomous vehicle than just the autonomous driving stack. The user experience will be an important element to success and NVIDIA’s GPUs are being used to improve speech recognition in-vehicle.

Speech is very complex. You have many different languages. You have different accents. You have the same word that can mean different things, so the context matters.

– Danny Shapiro

NVIDIA is working on bringing natural language processing to the edge with the goal of reducing latency and improving the user experience inside of the vehicle. As an example, Danny shared the following scenario:

You could say it’s warm and the car would respond, do you want me to turn on the AC or roll down your window? You can say, I will roll down the window. The car will also be able to recognize was it the driver or the passenger speaking.

That’s a multi-modal approach where we are using AI on the voice and also with a camera inside that can monitor the occupants, read lips and determine who was talking. It would roll down the appropriate window based on who was speaking.

– Danny Shapiro

This is the future of in-vehicle experiences and Mercedes, through a partnership with NVIDIA, is beginning to deploy the early stages of this technology in their new flagship 2022 EQS sedan. In the future when SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles become available, the inside of the vehicle could become an interactive gaming experience.

Integrating the motion of the vehicle with what is happening in virtual reality can be a really amazing experience.

– Danny Shapiro

In the interior of SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles, window glass will become augmented and screens will be ubiquitous, suggests Grayson. This new digital real estate will allow brands to create bespoke experiences for paying passengers, creating new potential revenue streams.

Disney is an example of a brand that stands to benefit as it can extend the “Disney Experience” into the vehicle. Grayson shares an example of how Disney can potentially create Star Wars autonomous vehicles to further enhance the new Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser two-night immersive experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The same technology that is used to develop immersive experiences is used to develop autonomous vehicles — simulation. With DeepMap joining NVIDIA, DeepMap’s maps will be used to enhance NVIDIA’s simulation technology.

Through simulation, we can train the vehicle to be smarter.

– Danny Shapiro

Inside of NVIDIA, there is one centralized engineering organization, which has many benefits as engineers are able to learn from each other and apply processing techniques to different industries from autonomous driving to health care.

If you look at something like autonomous driving where we are taking images from front-facing cameras and trying to detect pedestrians, our health care group and the work they are doing in medical imaging and cancer research leverages a lot of that same technology. Because if you do a scan, an MRI, an X-Ray, you are looking for cancer cells. It’s not that different to process from what we are doing with pedestrian detection.   

– Danny Shapiro

With NVIDIA’s core approach towards engineering and solving the world’s biggest challenges through compute, the company was busy simultaneously building an autonomous trucking business at the same time they were building their automotive business. Today, NVIDIA has 15 truck partners to complement its 370+ automotive industry partners.

We are not building the trucks, we are not building the cars, but we are helping our customers do their life’s work and create amazing products.

– Danny Shapiro

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Danny discuss NVIDIA’s data center strategy and the advantage for autonomous vehicle and trucking companies to build autonomy solutions on the NVIDIA platform.

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Recorded on Tuesday, August 10, 2021.

Optimizing Farms with See & Spray

Lee Redden, Chief Scientist & Co-Founder Blue River Technology and Chief Scientist of the Intelligent Solutions Group at John Deere joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss how See & Spray technology can help farmers optimize farms.

The conversation begins with talking about growing up in Nebraska and how having a shop at the back of his house would have a profound impact on his life.

We had a shop on the back of my house and I would spend 4 or 5 hours a day in the back of the shop just putting things together. I built a couple of go-karts, I built a car, I just have so many fond memories of just being back there welding something up, grinding something down, and building.

– Lee Redden

Lee’s hands-on experiences in the shed led to him enrolling at the University of Nebraska where he designed microcircuit boards for miniature surgical robots. During his time on campus, Lee watched a documentary about the DARPA Grand Challenge. Little did Lee know at the time, but the documentary would change his life.

One of the things growing up in Nebraska, I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of computer science. What that documentary did was show that there was this computer science group that was basically taking a stock car and adding a couple of sensors to it, but not putting too many sensors on it.

Then it was a computer science problem and it really kind of paved and showed me the way for what was possible with computer science in an area that I thought was really cool and was cars and autonomy and I just saw that as like oh my gosh if you can make this car do things it couldn’t do before, it just becomes so much more useful. Totally game changing in the possibilities.

– Lee Redden

The documentary exposed Lee to the possibilities of machine learning, computer vision, and AI. Eventually, he enrolled at Stanford to learn computer vision.

I knew this is what I needed to do to really get up to speed to work in the field I wanted to.

– Lee Redden

At Stanford, the seeds were planted for the founding of Blue River Technology when Lee met his co-founder, Jorge Heraud. From autonomous lawnmowers to the autonomous weeding of carrots to the thinning of lettuce. Lee and Jorge kept pivoting until they had their breakthrough moment with high-precision weeding machines.

During the early days of See & Spray, farmers provided invaluable feedback on the system as it was rolled out to farms in the United States. With feedback from farmers in hand, Blue River began to test in different geographies to build the data sets that are required to fully optimize the system.

The diversity of data you have really matters.

– Lee Redden

In 2017, John Deere acquired Blue River Technology. Being part of John Deere is allowing Blue River to take a longer-term view on the development of the technology.

It has been really fantastic for the company to be able to have that longer-term view.

– Lee Redden

After the acquisition, Lee took a step back to focus on control systems.

We will see shifts in machine form and how machines are designed and put together based on control systems.

– Lee Redden

While control systems are next, Lee is still dedicated to See & Spray. With an estimated 250 species of herbicide-resistant weeds, uncontrolled weeds result in annual losses of approximately $43 billion in corn and soybean crops, Blue River is using their computer vision technology to identify the weeds to help farmers save money when they use the See & Spray system.

The See & Spray system reduces the number of herbicides used by 77%, having a positive economic impact on farms and a positive impact on the environment.

Higher precision and plant by plant care is a win, win, win situation.

– Lee Redden

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Lee discuss the global population growth and how automation on farms can help feed the growing global population.

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Recorded on Thursday, August 5, 2021.