The Road to Autonomy Podcast

The Road to Autonomy™ hosted by Grayson Brulte is a podcast featuring unconventional conversations about the future of mobility.

How would you feel if the transport truck beside you on the highway had no driver? Or the car passing beside you had no driver? Would it make a difference if the widespread deployment of autonomous trucks could ease supply chain problems almost overnight and that autonomous vehicles do not get distracted or speed? And would you feel better if you knew autonomous trucks and vehicles could reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent or more?

Learn more from world's leading mobility experts on The Road to Autonomy, an ahead-of-the-curve podcast hosted by Grayson Brulte.

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Geopolitics of the Electric Vehicle Supply Chain

Henry Sanderson, Author, Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss the geopolitics of the electric vehicle supply chain and his book.

The conversation begins with Henry discussing why he wrote the book.

I really wanted to capture the idea that the energy transition, the move to clean energy wasn’t as simple as putting up some solar panels or wind turbines or swapping your just swapping car for electric. It actually involves a creation of whole new supply chains and opening people’s eyes to what this means.

– Henry Sanderson

The electric vehicle supply chain is fragile and comprised of geopolitics. When global carmakers first started to prepare for their supply chains for electric vehicles, they were caught flat footed when they entered the world of commodity trading.

In the book, Henry documents a meeting between executives at VW and a group of global cobalt traders where VW demanded a discount because they are VW. There was no discount, no cobalt sold and VW learned a hard lesson, they could no longer dictate pricing.

They thought of batteries and other things as commodities that they as big car makers could just buy and the suppliers would come running to be part of the VW supply chain.

– Henry Sanderson

With the growth of electric vehicles, new suppliers are coming online to meet the global demand. Sony which first commercialized the lithium-ion battery in 1991 could be entering the EV battery space as they look to commercialize their VISION-S EV. In South Korea, LG Chem and SK Innovation continue to invest in producing electric vehicle batteries. Then there is China which for all practical purposes controls the global EV supply chain.

It’s all part of making the world safe for China’s rise and knitting countries together into a sort of China, new China world order.

– Henry Sanderson

In 2013, President Xi of China gave a series of strategic speeches as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that were made in locations that possess the rich minerals needed for electric vehicles. As part of those speeches, China announced strategic investments in those countries. While the investments were not specifically targeted at electric vehicles, they indeed had a strategic purpose.

If China takes aggressive action towards Taiwan, the likelihood of the country becoming isolated from global trade is highly likely. Grayson and Henry discuss what the impact would be on China economically and the clean energy supply chain.

It’s amazing when you get into the nuts and bolts of it how integrated China is into the global economy and especially in clean energy where you got 80% of the solar supply chain, 90% of rare earth magnets, 80% of lithium-ion batteries, processing of almost all of these minerals in China.

– Henry Sanderson

When it comes to the EV supply chain, China is operating a strategic advantage. In the private sector, Glencore is operating at a strategic advantage because of their cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While Glencore has a strategic advantage, the company is not without its own controversies.

The DRC is one of those countries that I think wants to benefit from the energy transition, and when you think of developing countries being victims of climate change, we need to help them, we need to step in.

– Henry Sanderson

In Indonesia runoff from the nickel mines are polluting the ocean and damaging the country’s coral reefs. As negative environmental impacts come to light along along with human rights abuses, consumers will start to demand transparency in the supply chain.

In this whole transition the opportunity for innovation is huge and it’s not beyond our wits as man to solve some of these issues. You are exactly right, consumer pressure as we have seen in cobalt can actually really play a big part.

– Henry Sanderson

While consumers demand transparency, Governments around the world are working on ways to diversify away from China for the EV supply chain. This change is being driven partly by the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the country is looking to possibly bring the Cornwall lithium mines online one again. The global trend of diversify away from China will only continue as the electric vehicle industry continues to grow and prosper.

Wrapping up the conversation, Henry shares his opinion on how he sees the global electric vehicle supply chain evolving in the coming years.

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Recorded on Monday, October 17, 2022

Volvo Group: Transforming From a Hardware Business to an As a Service Business

David Hanngren, Investment Director, Volvo Group Venture Capital joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss how the Volvo Group is transforming from a hardware business to an as a service business, and the role that the venture capital group is playing in Volvo’s transformation.

The conversation begins with David discussing how all of the Volvo Group’s businesses with a $31 billion dollar market cap compliment each other ranging from heavy-duty trucks to construction equipment to buses to heavy-duty engines and marine industrial engines.

We are earning a lot of money which we invest in new technologies.

– David Hanngren

All of the business are business-to-business (B2B) that operate under a CAST (Common Architecture Share Technology) model. Components and technologies amongst the various businesses are shared which allows the Volvo Group to optimize the business as they shift to electrification.

Heavy-Duty trucks account for 60% of Volvo Group’s revenue. As the Volvo Group prepares to move from a 100 year old hardware business to an as a services business, the company sees heavy-duty truck business continuing to grow and gaining market share.

We are moving from hardware to services.

– David Hanngren

With the shift to services and electrification, Volvo has created two new divisions: Volvo Autonomous Solutions and Volvo Energy. The as a services model will carry over to autonomous trucks.

We do not plan to sell an autonomous truck, we will provide a transport service. Both on-road or off-road.

– David Hanngren

The autonomous transport service will be offered for the following applications: mining/quarries, ports/logistics and on-the-road hub-to-hub autonomous trucking. This new service model will allow the company to continue to grow their revenue while they continue to invest in new technologies.

As Volvo Group develops an autonomous transport solution for North America, the company entered into a partnership with Aurora in 2021 to accelerate the plans.

It’s not a traditional situation where an OEM is supplying a truck and Aurora is developing the software, we do this together. We have hundreds of engineers working on the virtual driver and we do it together with Aurora. We want to develop a self-driving transportation service together with them. In the end when it’s ready, Volvo will then offer a transport service to our customers. Together we will make it happen.

– David Hanngren

While Volvo Group is developing an autonomous transport solution with Aurora, it is not an exclusive partnership. More partnerships could be coming as Volvo transforms into services oriented company. The venture capital group will play a key role in this transformation.

We want to be one of the ways to transform Volvo from a product centric company to a service oriented company. We see ourselves as an important piece of the puzzle.

– David Hanngren

Volvo is going to scale their autonomous transport solution by leveraging all of their brands; Volvo, Mack and Renault Trucks in North America, Europe and Asia. Over the last 12 months, 249,000 Class 8 truck orders have been placed and some dealers are sold out for all of 2023. The demand for freight is up, the demand for Class 8 trucks is up. This environment is creating the perfect backdrop for Volvo to launch their autonomous transport solution.

Staying true to their new as a service model, Volvo is currently testing selling Class 8 trucks as equipment as a service. As Volvo introduces more electric heavy-duty electric trucks, these trucks will primarily be sold as a equipment as a service.

In Europe, Volvo has a 42% market share for electric heavy-duty electric trucks. Volvo expects this market share to grow as Amazon will be taking possession of 20 Volvo heavy-duty electric trucks in Germany by the end of the year. The trucks that Amazon will be using in Germany are projected to drive over 621,000 miles a year.

With 36% of Germany’s domestic transport emissions originating from heavy goods vehicles and other commercial vehicles, Volvo’s electric heavy-duty truck business is poised to flourish as the world begins to decarbonize.

In 2030, half of all the products that we sell will be zero emissions. So either electric or fuel-cell technology. In 2040, which is less than 20 years away all of the new sales should be zero emissions. Then we hope by 2050 that the entire running fleet will be zero emissions.

– David Hanngren

Wrapping up the conversation, David discusses the strategic advantages of working with Volvo Group Venture Capital.

We care a lot about the well being of the start-up. Our focus is not on how Volvo can just profit, our focus is on how can we help the start-up.

– David Hanngren

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Recorded on Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Hub-to-Hub Autonomy

Mazen Danaf, Senior Economist, Uber Freight joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss the current state of surface freight transportation market and Uber Freight’s approach to autonomous trucking starting with a hub-to-hub strategy.

The conversation begins with Mazen discussing how he sees the $1.06 trillion dollar surface freight transportation market evolving over the coming years.

We will continue to have more automation over the coming years.

– Mazen Danaf

While more automation will becoming to the market, sustainability and transparency are also coming to the market as well. Over the past 24 months the spot rates for shipping have been extremely volatile and the contracts have become inefficient.

We need more tools that can adapt to this level of volatility, and we think that tools like Market Access, which is a class model is one of the best tools out there. Shippers know what the current rates are in the market and then they are paying for that based on a cost-plus model.

– Mazen Danaf

Uber Freight which participates in this market generated $2.134 billion in revenue in 2021, and the company is on pace to generate $7.84 billion in 2022. This growth is being driven by technology, expansion into new verticals and market tailwinds.

We are using technology to drive costs lower for everyone. For carriers and for shippers.

– Mazen Danaf

With the trend of reshoring manufacturing back to the United States, Grayson poses the question to Mazen, will there be enough freight capacity to move goods.

It’s a cycle. I would say freight capacity is aways chasing demand and the equilibrium level is so elusive that we can’t get to it, so sometimes we undershoot and sometimes we overshoot.

– Mazen Danaf

At this point, there is enough capacity to handle the trend, but a potential recession in the United States could change the scenario. This is a scenario that Mazen is modeling for to determine what impact on the freight market will be if consumer spending on goods slows down.

If a recession happens, we are expecting a single digit reduction in freight volumes.

– Mazen Danaf

In a recessionary scenario, spending on durable goods will decrease and unemployment will rise. With a truck driver shortage estimated to be 84,000 truck drivers this year and a potential recession, the cost to ship freight could potentially increase due to a lack of capacity. The trend of the driver shortage is forecasted to grow to 160,000 drivers by 2030.

A large amount of truck drivers who are currently driving trucks today are starting to prefer to drive local routes instead of long-haul over-the-road routes, which is further putting strain on the freight market. These market conditions are creating the perfect opportunity for autonomous trucking to fill the void and shore up the demand in the market for long-haul trucking.

Serving the middle-mile is the perfect opportunity for autonomous trucking.

– Mazen Danaf

This is the opportunity that Uber Freight is focused on which Mazen and his co-authors highlighted in their The Future of Self-Driving Technology in Trucking, A road map for evolving freight transportation with autonomous trucks paper. The hub-to-hub model will have economic benefits for customers of the Uber Freight platform in terms of cost savings.

By leveraging their vast amounts of data, Uber Freight is able to work with their autonomous trucking partners to determine the most ideal locations for the transfer hubs. At first these hubs will be located near major freeways, which will increase the utilization and uptime of the trucks.

At the transfer hub, the autonomous trucks will drop the load and the final mile delivery will be done by a professional truck driver, creating efficiencies. With the hub-to-hub model, there is no limit to the amount of freight that can pass through this model, the only restraint is the amount of freight available in the market.

The hub-to-hub model is merely just the starting point to how Uber Freight sees the autonomous trucking model evolving.

We do not think this is the final model. We think of this as a stepping stone and we believe that one day we will be able to achieve end-to-end operations where autonomous trucks will be able to drive from the source facility to the end facility.

– Mazen Danaf

Wrapping up the conversation, Mazen shares his thoughts on the future of Uber Freight.

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Recorded on Monday, October 10, 2022

Waymo’s Layered Approach to Safety

Francesca Favarò, Safety Best Practices Lead, Waymo joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss Waymo’s layered approach to safety.

The conversation begins with Francesca discussing how Waymo approaches safety for autonomous vehicles.

Waymo has an approach that we call a layer approach to safety.

– Francesca Favarò

Waymo’s layered approach to safety is a combination of the architecture layer (hardware), behavior layer (software) and the operations layer. This approach allows Waymo to take a holistic approach to safety that is both robust and redundant.

The Waymo Driver as a technology actually allows consistent learning across an entire fleet. The operations layer is where everything starts coming together and we ensure that going from the Waymo Driver to the Waymo service we are in fact deploying a safe product in a scalable fleet.

– Francesca Favarò

The layered safety framework started with the realization that no single metric could define safety.

The safety framework is the combination of methodologies that basically allows you to make the determination of safety with regards to architecture, behavior and operations.

– Francesca Favarò

As Waymo expands into new cities, the safety framework is applied to each and every ODD (Operational Design Domain) where Waymo operates. The company is looking into historical driving data, vulnerable road users data and distracted driving patterns that lead to crashes. Another issue that Waymo studies and plans for from a safety standpoint is fatigued driving.

Fatigue can impair judgments, prevent an appropriate mental state and lead to distracted driving. NHTSA estimates that fatigued driving accounts for 20% of highway driving crashes and Harvard Medical School estimates that 24-hours awake which can occur during a sleepless night is akin to a blood alcohol level of 0.1.

With fatigue playing an outside role in safety, Waymo developed the Fatigue Risk Management Framework to address the issue of fatigue and how to prevent it when testing autonomous vehicles with autonomous specialists. Francesca goes onto explain in-depth how Waymo is mitigating fatigue risk while the autonomous vehicles are being tested with autonomous specialists.

In the local communities where Waymo is testing autonomous vehicles, the Fatigue Risk Management Framework with law enforcement, local officials and first responders so they can truly understand the role that autonomous specialists play while monitoring the autonomous vehicles.

This approach ties directly into Waymo’s culture of safety and transparency.

Safety does not happen overnight. You have to be intentional in creating the appropriate safety culture.

– Francesca Favarò

Waymo is focused on developing an SAE Level 4 system as the continuous monitoring of the automated driving system can be subject to complacency coupled with an altered state of attention that can hinder the safety of the overall operation.

Wrapping up the conversation, Francesca shares her insights on how she sees the Waymo Driver evolving over the coming years.

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Recorded on Friday, October 7, 2022

Carpooling For Freight

Pat Dillon, Chief Financial Officer, Flock Freight joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss the current economic outlook and Flock’s carpooling for freight model that unlocks value for shippers and carriers.

The conversation begins with Pat sharing his insight on how as CFO, he is preparing Flock Freight for a potential recession in the United States which is currently being forecasted at 50% according to the Bloomberg United States Recession Probability Forecast.

We are certainly cognizant of the broader macro environment and how that impacts our business. It certainly means that as consumer behavior changes or industrial production, the demand for freight transportation has an impact on that, so that certainly translates into our business.

– Pat Dillon

While Flock Freight is still a growth company, the company is taking prudent measures to be prepared for the scenario that the United States economy falls into a recession. One of the company’s economic advantages is that they operate an asset-light shared truckload platform that enables cost savings for their customers.

Shared truckload would mean that we can take a 20 ft shipment from Customer A and a 25 ft shipment from Customer B and pool those together into a single truckload, so it never has to go on a hub and go through a warehouse. And you are getting point-to-point transportation. It’s essentially carpooling for freight.

– Pat Dillon

Shipping using shared truckloads can reduce carbon emissions up to 40% due to higher utilization through fewer driven miles. As an important metric as this is, truck tonnage in the United States increased 7.4% in August 2022, year-over-year. The growth can be partially attributed to the catch-up effect as the global supply chain has begun to normalize.

While the global supply chain has normalized today, the freight market will continue to fluctuate with the driver shortage and a potential slowdown in consumer spending. Creating opportunities for Flock that CNBC has taken notice as the company has climbed from #42 on the CNBC Disruptor 50 list in 2021 to #14 in 2022.

With a potential recession on the horizon, Pat discusses what impact consolidation in the truck freight market will have on Flock Freight.

Unlike a lot of other markets that might already be pretty consolidated, were further consolidation has signifiant pressure on margins, this is not that type of market. It’s hyper fragmented and we do not see it having much of a day-to-day impact from that perspective on Flock Freight.

– Pat Dillon

From a technology perspective, autonomous trucks are preparing to scale and the timing could not be better as there is a growing demand for freight and a growing driver shortage.

Like a lot of things, there are big problems throughout the truck freight world and big problems are big opportunities. That’s how you create new capacity when you are constrained on the number of drivers.

– Pat Dillon

Autonomous trucks will compliment Flock Freight as they be able to provide autonomous shared truckload capacity. As new technologies come online such as hydrogen fuel-cell and electric heavy-duty trucks, Flock will look at ways to potential integrate those technologies into their platform.

Wrapping up the conversation, Pat shares his thoughts on the future of freight.

If you are a player in freight you will need to be able to have a more diversified approach in terms of the offerings you give to your customers.

– Pat Dillon

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Recorded on Friday, September 30, 2022