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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Current State of The Public Mobility Markets

Alan Ohnsman, Senior Editor, Forbes joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the public mobility markets. From SPACs to Tesla to traditional IPOs, Grayson and Alan discuss electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, autonomous trucking, and delivery.

The conversation begins with Alan and Grayson discussing the current state of the SPAC market.

SPAC activity in both the EV and AV space is just astonishing. I think there is an increasing concern about the quality of some of these offerings. Not all companies are created equal. Not all startups are the same.

– Alan Ohnsman

As the SPAC market matures and companies begin the process of de-spacing, issues around the business models and the strength of the balance sheet are being to come into question. A major issue with SPACs is the lack of disclosure as compared to a traditional IPO. We are seeing this very issue play out today with Lordstown Motors as they are under investigation by the Department of Justice over the pre-order numbers of their vehicles.

Alan points out the lack of disclosures will lead to increased regulation.

The amount of investor litigation aimed at some of these companies is going to be high. I think it’s inevitable that the regulator is going to step in and say slow your roll. We really need to vet these a little more carefully and set some better ground rules.

– Alan Ohnsman

Tesla which went public in 2010 continues to dominate the public electric vehicle market while capturing the public’s imagination.

There is going to be so much competition in the EV space that Telsa has a first-mover advantage. The brand is well established. It is clearly popular in many markets.

– Alan Ohnsman

While Tesla is dominating the electric vehicle market today, Toyota is well poised to gain market share in the future. As the economics of electric vehicles improve and electric vehicle charging becomes more readily available, the market is going to change as Toyota and Hyundai move into the market.

With the lack of electric vehicle charging around the United States, Grayson raises the point that hybrid vehicles will become the dominant vehicle type sold over the next 10 years. This is where Toyota wins as they are the clear leader in hybrid technology. Until we achieve ubiquitous electric vehicle charging, consumers will be unsure about adopting and embracing EVs.

Ubiquitous charging. It has to be everywhere and people have to know where it is. It has to be a no-brainer.

– Alan Ohnsman

Shifting the conversation back to autonomous vehicles, Grayson asks Alan about the Aurora SPAC and specifically highlights one of the risk factors in the investor presentation:

We operate in a highly competitive market and some market participants have substantially greater resources. If one or more of our competitors commercialize their self-driving technology before we do, develop superior technology, or are perceived to have better technology, it could materially and adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations.

This risk factor is a clear reference to Waymo, which continues to raise billions of dollars.

The amount of funding for [autonomous vehicles] is enormous. Just astonishing.

– Alan Ohnsman

Both Aurora and Waymo are focused on developing a universal driver which can drive a robo-taxi and an autonomous truck. As Aurora begins life as a public company, investors and analysts could begin to question the universal driver approach due to economics and the business model.

The same can be said for Waymo if and when Alphabet spins out Waymo as a publicly-traded company. If this was to happen, investors would have the opportunity to invest in a pure-play. Waymo for the robo-taxi market and Waymo Via for the logistics market.

The money maker in the near term certainly is going to be trucking and logistics. No question about it. That is going to be where everyone makes their money at the outset.

– Alan Ohnsman

With the iShares US Transportation ETF ($IYT) having returned 15.16% YTD (as of Monday, July 19, 2021), Grayson asks Alan when will we see an autonomous trucking company added to the index. Alan believes by 2023 we will start to see autonomous trucking companies added to the index. Those companies could be TuSimple and Waymo.

Staying on the 2023 theme, Alan discusses why this could be the year that autonomous trucking becomes a two-horse race between TuSimple and Waymo. With TuSimple and Waymo’s growing fleets of autonomous trucks, the companies are well poised for the future.

Fielding an ever-larger fleet is important. You can do a lot on modeling in computer simulation, but having physical fleets and getting real-world data day-in and day-out, it’s really hard to substitute that.

– Alan Ohnsman

While fielding an ever-larger fleet is critically important, having real-world experience and hiring individuals from the trucking industry is also one of the keys to success. Another key is understanding the global supply chain and the impact that the driver shortage is having on the global economy.

The habits of consumers are shifting to e-commerce as Adobe is projecting that global e-commerce sales will reach $4.2 trillion this year. As consumers shift their habits to ordering online, this creates new opportunities for companies to serve the growing demand for the delivery of goods. Uber’s EATS business is booming as the business is now a $50 billion business.

You want to go where the money is.

– Alan Ohnsman

This raises the question of, does Uber one day shut down the passenger ride business to focus solely on delivery and logistics? It’s an interesting question with a lot of what if’s. But one thing is for certain, Dara Khosrowshahi will make the hard decisions that ultimately benefit the business. What we do know today is that the consumer appetite for delivery is only going to grow.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Alan discuss the 2028 Summer Olympics and what the transportation network will look like in Los Angeles.

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Recorded on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.

Obsessed with The Impossible

Alex Roy, Director of Special Operations at Argo AI, host of The No Parking and Autonocast Podcasts, Editor-at-Large, The Drive, Founder of the Human Driving Association, author of The Driver, and Producer of APEX: The Secret Race Across America joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why he has always been obsessed with the impossible.

The conversation begins with Alex discussing his 2007 U.S. Cannonball Run in a BMW M5 and how he was able to break the record using data.

I have always been obsessed with things that people said are impossible. Someone says something is impossible, I want to try it. Or as an investor, I want to invest in it because the future is always built by optimists.

– Alex Roy

It was during this time that Alex first learned about mapping and how creating a map with intricate details such as construction zones and potential police hiding places could enable the U.S. Cannonball record to be broken.

16, 17 years ago, we created map data sets around road construction, road conditions, police locations, and looked at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) [for] weather, and created a very comprehensive data set and plan.

– Alex Roy

The U.S. Cannonball Run changed Alex’s life after the story was published in Wired Magazine. The FBI called and invited Alex to speak at the FBI Academy about how he used free off-the-shelf mapping tools to create datasets to do the impossible – breaking the Cannonball record.

With the record broken, the FBI asking how he did it, corporations asking for advice on mapping, an appearance on The Tonight Show with David Letterman, the Alex Roy brand was born.

Years later, Alex would meet Bryan Salesky, Co-Founder & CEO of Argo AI. That meeting would change Alex’s life when Bryan asked him how he did it and said the following:

So basically you were using for bad all of the technology that we use for good. You have an engineer’s mind but not the education. Have you ever considered how else you might use that knowledge?

It was at that moment that Alex put his knowledge to good and joined Argo AI.

Very few people in life are lucky enough to have such an opportunity, so I was going to take it. If I had lasted one week, I would have said that was the best week of my life because I could point back and say that was a good thing.

– Alex Roy

While Argo operates as a business, other companies in the industry are solely focused on perfection and not necessarily the business of autonomy. Grayson asks Alex for his thoughts on this trend and what is behind it. Alex emphasizes the importance of studying and understanding history.

Every successful technology and business built around it learns from the prior one. Or at least the successful companies do.

– Alex Roy

Looking at history, Grayson discusses his theory on why autonomous vehicles will become platforms that will enable businesses to build experiences and expand margins. Staying on the history theme, Alex talks about the ascending room and how elevators enabled profitable experiences.

[Elevators] were installed by the department stores because as spectacles and experiences the thought was that they would compel or inspire shopping.

– Alex Roy

Combining an Only in Vegas experience with a mobile gambling platform and an autonomous vehicle, casinos can expand their highly profitable gaming operations into mobility. Grayson and Alex discuss why this could become a product.

Each city will have multiple products based on and around the autonomous vehicles. Some may exist today, but what you really want is to create experiences and products around autonomy that don’t exist today. What is the number one lesson in entertainment? Give them something that they can’t get anywhere else and if you can, let them have it twice.

– Alex Roy

Taking this experience outside of Vegas to cities around the world, this experience will become possible as States continue to legalize online gambling. In the future fans will be able to ride in bespoke autonomous vehicles to sports events. These vehicles will be fully stocked for tailgating with beverages, food, and the ability to gamble. From a safety perspective, fans will no longer be driving home from the game after consuming adult beverages.

With the advancements of AR (augmented reality), new experiences will be created in the mobility sector that will turn into new profitable revenue streams for autonomous vehicle companies which operate as platforms. This is the future of the much-rumored Apple Car. The Apple Car will be a platform that allows Apple to expand its fast-growing services business.

Airbnb will be another very large player in the autonomous vehicle industry in the future as the company looks to expand its experiences business. The music industry will also benefit as it is an experiences business. On an episode of The No Parking Podcast, Alex and Bryan spoke with Barak Moffitt, Executive Vice President of Content Strategy & Operations, Universal Music Group about combining music with AR to enable in-autonomous vehicle experiences.

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Alex discuss how autonomous vehicles will eliminate friction when attending concerts.

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Recorded on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

The Data Will Always Set You Free

Andy Smart, Safety & Technical Standards Specialist joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why the data will always set you free when an organization embraces and implements a culture of safety.

The conversation begins with Andy talking about the first time he experienced mobility freedom when he got his first bike at age ten in Scotland. Today, Andy rides a fixed-gear bike without brakes as he wants to be in control and fully aware of his surroundings at all times.

It’s all about the awareness of your surroundings and your connectivity to your environment. You will never be more connected in that sense when you are riding [a fixed-gear bike without brakes] as you have to be tuned in both from an acoustic point of view, visual and acoustic.

– Andy Smart

When Andy is driving a vehicle he uses the same visual and acoustic tactics that he uses while riding a bike. Once on a cross-country drive from Michigan to California with his wife, Andy overtook a truck as he heard the sound of little pieces of rubber hitting the windshield because it was only a matter of time before the truck tire would blow. Potentially avoiding a crash because he was fully aware of his surroundings.

It is all about the feeling.

– Andy Smart

While driving a vehicle or riding a motorcycle or a bike, Andy is always aware of his surroundings.

I am looking through the lens of the driver and also the environment and the connection between the two.

– Andy Smart

Taking a look at the current driving environment, a lot of drivers do not pay attention while driving as they are distracted by their phones. What these drivers fail to realize and what Andy points out very clearly is that a vehicle is a lethal weapon that has to be treated with care and respect.

Building upon Andy’s real-world experiences, Grayson shifts the conversation to autonomous vehicles and how Andy approaches AV safety. One of the most important elements of AV safety is the organization’s commitment to safety.

The whole basis of a safety culture in an organization is above any business objectives. It has to be you are held to a higher level. Business decisions should not be built around safety. Safety decisions are made because of safety, not through business decisions.

– Andy Smart

A holistic approach to safety is what is required to develop a culture of safety. It’s an approach that is built around all aspects of the operation and takes into account both off-vehicle and on-vehicle operations. Without a globally recognized safety standard, Grayson asks Andy how AV safety can be measured.

As engineers, it is our responsibility to go in and look and to say ok who already does this. Let’s benchmark other industries. We are not unique. We are into some groundbreaking stuff here, but hey would you believe that mining has been automating mining trucks for the last 35 years.

Maybe we can learn a bit from them. It’s different but learn, adapt, because as engineers you have to put your hand on your heart and say I did my best and I did everything I could do to find out what was the right way to do it.

– Andy Smart

With the advancements of ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) and the growing trend of consumers over-relying on SAE Level 2+ systems, Grayson and Andy discuss who is responsible for a crash and what can be done to improve safety.

The person who is making the decisions is responsible, they have primary responsibility.

– Andy Smart

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Andy discuss how consumers approach safety. Why dealer training for ADAS is important and the role driver monitoring will play in the future of ADAS.

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Recorded on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.

The Growing Autonomous Vehicle Industry in Texas

Thomas Bamonte, Senior Program Manager, Automated Vehicles, North Central Texas Council of Governments joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the growing autonomous trucking and autonomous vehicle industries in Texas.

The conversation begins with Tom discussing how he first became interested in autonomous vehicles. In 2006, Tom wrote an article about merging the best of highway transportation and transit through autonomous vehicles.

Little did Tom know at the time, but this article would go on to have a profound effect on his career. After writing the article, Tom started attending conferences and became one of the earliest individuals discussing the positive impact that autonomy will have on society.

Being based in the Dallas Fort Worth Region, Tom has a front-row seat to autonomy as the region is emerging as the home of autonomous trucking. The geographical features of the region are land, land, and more land. With these geographical features, Tom explains why the region has openly embraced autonomous trucking.

We are a large inland port and we have to be extra scrappy because we do not have a river or a seaport, we just have land. We have to be extra innovative and extra supportive of our freight partners.

– Thomas Bamonte

The region is part of the Texas Triangle and the home to DFW (Dallas Fort Worth International Airport) which is a major cargo hub. The airport has a yearly $20 billion economic impact on the North Texas Region. With welcoming State and Regional Governments, a major cargo hub, and freight companies located in the region, the area is well-positioned to fully embrace the future of autonomous trucking.

We are well situated at the apex of the Texas triangle to host freight operations. It’s a great central U.S. location where AV freight can reach basically all of the country within a reasonable amount of time.

– Thomas Bamonte

As the Texas population continues to grow as individuals and families relocate from other States, Grayson asks Tom how the North Central Texas Council of Governments is continuing to drive the economic growth from autonomous vehicle companies relocating to the region.

We are investing in our AV 2.0 program. We’re advancing six automated vehicle deployments and we’re moving from thinking of deployments as individual exercises. We are trying to build a regional AV program that has everything from sidewalk delivery bots. We are investing in what may become the nation’s first automated truck port. That is one of the six projects.

We are signaling through our investments that we are open for business and willing to effectively partner with our private sector AV developer partners.

– Thomas Bamonte

Expanding the conversation to other regions of Texas, Grayson asks Tom about Argo AI’s deployment in Austin and Nuro’s deployment in Houston.

All of the Texas cities are evolving into very diverse AV environments.

– Thomas Bamonte

When Drive AI operated a self-driving passenger service for the public in Frisco and Arlington, Texas in 2018 and 2019, they interacted with the community and did outreach to the local community to encourage future engineers to learn about the technology. The community/school outreach program was a tremendous success with Tom summing it up as a Norman Rockwell moment.

With the AV 2.0 plan, NCTCOG has partnered with Dallas College to stand up and invest in an AV-oriented curriculum with a focus on trucking and autonomy. Additionally, NCTCOG organized the North Texas Center For Mobility Technologies.

We are looking for every opportunity to work with the AV companies to develop the curriculum and engage with the next generation of workers in the transportation and related sectors.

– Thomas Bamonte

Shifting the conversation to autonomy and urban environments, Tom shares his thoughts on what autonomous passenger vehicle and delivery deployments will look like in the future.

I can see delivery expanding from individual items to experiences and a richer sort of interaction, instead of just having stuff dropped off.

– Thomas Bamonte

With the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers being located in the Dallas Forth Worth region, there is a tremendous opportunity for bespoke day-of-game autonomous vehicle experiences.

Wrapping up the conversation, Tom makes the case on why autonomous vehicle and autonomous trucking companies should consider expanding to Texas.

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Recorded on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

The World Runs on Arm

Robert Day, Director, Autonomous Vehicles, Arm joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss why the world runs on Arm.

The conversation begins with Robert discussing Arm’s partnership approach and how over 190 billion devices around the world contain Arm-based chips.

It’s really all about the partnership approach. It’s all about working with our silicon partners and giving them the right technology to allow them to address the different markets they want to put their silicon into.

– Robert Day

Focusing on Arm’s partnership approach, Robert discusses how Arm was able to ship a record 7.3 billion Arm-based chips in Q4 2020 as the global markets faced a supply chain crunch.

Our partners like to work with us because we are continuously innovating.

– Robert Day

Shifting the conversation to autonomous vehicles, Grayson asks Robert when and why did Arm first enter the autonomous vehicle industry. Arm has been in the automotive industry for a long time. Building upon this experience, Arm expanded into the autonomous vehicle industry as companies prepare for the mass deployment of autonomous vehicles as they will need great silicon.

As autonomous vehicle companies such as Cruise actively prepare for the commercialization of their service, Grayson asks Robert if custom chip architectures are currently being developed for autonomous vehicles.

Whether people will develop custom silicon to do it, I do not know. As they get closer to deployment, it’s what is available. What is out there? It costs a lot of money to develop a custom chip. If our silicon partners have the right SOCs based on our technology, they will probably just pick those up off the shelves.

There might be certain applications, there might be certain parts of the vehicle that may be doing sensor intelligence where they might want to do some of their own silicon. At the moment you have to get closer to the actual deployment before it will be obvious which way people will go.

– Robert Day

Taking a look at the autonomous vehicle industry as a whole, Robert shares his thoughts on the current state of the autonomous vehicle market. The adoption of autonomous vehicles will come down to trust. Grayson and Robert go on to discuss how brands and experiences and help to develop trust with autonomous vehicles.

When developing relationships and engaging with the autonomous vehicle industry, Arm asks the following:

What do you need in order to make autonomy deployable? Mass deployable.

– Robert Day

Arm has been having these discussions for years as Arm considers autonomous vehicles a growth market.

It really is an industry and a market that we want to make sure that Arm is front and center in.

– Robert Day

As society begins to shift to electric vehicles and the autonomous vehicle industry embraces electrification, Arm is well-positioned as the company specializes in low-power, high-performance chips.

Energy efficiency, thermal efficiency, it will all be really important for deployment. Especially in vehicles that are fit-for-purpose or vehicles that we actually drive as higher levels of autonomy come into them.

– Robert Day

With higher levels of autonomy, safety is paramount. Robert discusses Arm’s commitment to functional safety and why it is mission-critical for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles.

Putting the entire conversation into context, Grayson asks Robert what role he sees Arm playing in the autonomous vehicle ecosystem as the industry matures.

It’s all about deployability and what’s required for autonomous vehicles to be deployed.

– Robert Day

Wrapping up the conversation, Robert shares the story of how he first became interested in autonomous vehicles. It all started with an episode of Knight Rider. Grayson expands the conversation into the role popular culture will play in the adoption of this technology and why in the future there will be an Elvis autonomous vehicle service in Las Vegas.

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Recorded on Tuesday May 25, 2021.