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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California’s Electric Future

Russ Mitchell who covers the rapidly changing global auto industry (with special emphasis on California, including Tesla, electric vehicles, and driverless cars) at The Los Angeles Times once again joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss California’s Electric Future.

The conversation begins with a discussion about California Governor Newsom’s executive order to phase out gasoline-powered cars. Why this was politically savvy to appeal to the climate front, but the uncertainly that this will cause around the economics as an electric vehicle costs on average 30% more than a gasoline-powered car.

Grayson and Russ go onto discuss why this might create a grey market for gasoline-powered cars and what the supply chain for electric vehicles currently looks like in the Congo and China.

Following on this topic, they go onto discuss the conditions in which these minerals are mined, and if consumers will take the same active approach to blood cobalt as they took to blood diamonds and demand ethical mining.

Russ who lives in Berkeley, CA says that his friends who drive electric vehicles have not even thought about the ethical mining of cobalt. Companies are currently focused on shoring up the mineral supply chain at the moment.

While the supply chain and the ethical mining of minerals for electric vehicles remain a concern, the bigger question still remains: “How do you recycle electric vehicle batteries”. Grayson and Russ go onto to discuss this issue and how EV batteries can be reused for backup batteries for homes.

In California, Toyota and Honda were the top two selling brands in 2019, accounting for over 30% of all new vehicles sold in the State. Grayson and Russ go onto discuss why Toyota and Honda have to start investing in fully-electric vehicles today to not lose market share in California when new gasoline-powered car sales are banned.

In the late 2000s, the Toyota Prius was the “It Car” when it became a Hollywood status symbol thanks in-part to Leonardo DiCaprio who was driven to the 2008 Oscars in a Prius. Not to mention the thousands of photographs of him driving around LA in the car.

Today, Toyota no longer has the “It Car”, but they popularized the idea of driving an environmentally friendly car. The current “It Car” is Tesla.

While California may be on the edge of emerging trends, consumers are still not sold on electric cars. Only 2% of the 17 million light cars and trucks sold in the United States in 2019 were electric.

Could this be due to charging and charge time? Grayson and Russ discuss why consumers want to charge quickly and efficiently. This conversation raises the question, can the energy grid handle an increase in new electric vehicles?

With new electric vehicles coming on the market, Grayson and Russ discuss what the market would look like without Tesla’s Model 3. They go on to discuss how Elon Musk built Tesla into a brand that is a lifestyle choice for millions of individuals.

Grayson goes onto discuss how Elon Musk captured the public’s imagination that an electric can be cool, part of your lifestyle, accessible and approachable.

This evolved into a deep conversation about Tesla and what Elon has to do to continue to dominate the public’s imagination on electric vehicles. While the public’s imagination is important, quality control is even more important.

Wrapping up the conversation, they discuss the current state of the electric vehicle market and when brands such as Porsche, Land Rover, and Mercedes will make their big moves to gain EV market share from Tesla.

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If you have enjoyed this conversation, please listen to Grayson and Russ’s earlier conversation:

The Business of Self-Driving Cars

Innovation Improves Lives

Jesse Blumenthal, Vice President, Technology & Innovation, Stand Together and Director, Technology & Innovation at the Charles Koch Institute joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss how innovation improves lives.

The conversation begins with a discussion around innovation in society and the positive impacts it has had throughout history.

Innovator used to be basically a synonym for a heretic. An innovator meant someone who challenge[s] the King or challenged the Church.

– Jesse Blumenthal

As more individuals are able to try new things, there are more attempts at innovation which has a positive impact on society. Following on this trend, the conversation expands to platforms and how they grow knowledge in society through access to information.

Today billions of individuals around the world access information through a simple search or a scroll of a newsfeed. But in 1992, that was not the case as only 10 million individuals around the world had Internet access. In 1994, only 24% of Americans had a computer at their home.

During the Clinton Administration, President Clinton and Vice President Gore encouraged the private sector to lead on the internet and develop technologies that will help usher in the “New Economy”.

It is the policy of the United States that the private sector should lead on the internet. Internet innovation should be lead by the private sector and not the public sector.

During the mid-’90s, consumers did not have a credit card on file. There was a healthy level of skepticism about doing business online. This all changed when the Clinton Administration stepped up and lead on innovation.

Staying on the topic of policy and innovation, Grayson and Jesse discuss the AV Start Act and why a national framework for autonomous vehicles is needed. Individuals do not think about driving from Boston to New Hampshire, but without a national framework, they will have to as the autonomous vehicle will not be able to travel over State lines.

While there is the national issue of an autonomous vehicle framework, there is the California State issue of Prop 22 and AB5. AB5 came to be law because of special interests and their desire to curtail the rapidly growing gig economy.

While special interests and the politicians who they back are trying to slow down innovation, entrepreneurs across America continue to innovate and look to the future.

Tech Moves Faster than Government and that is a good thing.

– Jesse Blumenthal

Staying on topic. Grayson and Jesse discuss the politics of ride-sharing, the gig economy, and the economic impact on society. The gig economy gives individuals flexibility and voters value flexibility.

With voters valuing flexibility, they also value their privacy. Apple has clearly demonstrated that consumers value privacy. While this approach works for Apple, it might not work for other companies.

Apple’s approach to privacy will benefit the company if and when they decide to introduce an autonomous vehicle service.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson and Jesse discuss what can be done to ensure that America continues to lead on innovation. Innovation that will improve lives and create new opportunities for entrepreneurs to build companies with outcome-based approaches.

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Global Perspective on Mobility and Cities

John Rossant, Founder & CEO of Commotion and Chairman of the NewCities Foundation joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast for a global conversation about mobility and cities.

The conversation begins with a discussion around public transportation in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. Grayson and John discuss the culture of cities and why this is one of the main defining factors of how and why public transportation is used in cities around the world.

From a discussion around culture and public transportation, Grayson shifts the conversation back to Paris where John started his career as the Europe Editor of BusinessWeek. While in the City of Lights, John saw the oncoming decline of print and joined the Publicis Groupe after a meeting and long negotiation with Maurice Lévy.

After several years of leading communications and public affairs, John became Executive Chairman of PublicisLive, producer of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. John shares his insights into Davos and how logistically challenging it is to put on the World Economic Forum each and every year.

Putting that all together is like putting a man on the moon in terms of complexity.

– John Rossant

Staying on the theme of the World Economic Forum, Grayson asks John to share his thoughts on the 2021 WEF Theme; “The Great Reset“. John shares his thoughts on what a dense urban environment will look like in a post-COVID world.

The conversation veers into a conversation about travel and virtual reality. John believes the future will be defined in a metaverse world. Grayson follows up by asking John about what impact a metaverse world will have on cities.

I find the idea of putting on a headset and walking down a canal in Venice in a three-dimensional way is pretty interesting.

– John Rossant

Keeping with a global flair, the conversation shifts into Saudi Arabi where Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud is developing a city for the 21st Century with 21st Century technology from the ground up called NEOM.

NEOM imagines a city that does not have to built around the motor car. In fact, there won’t be a place in NEOM for the individually owned motor car.

– John Rossant

The idea of NEOM is to build a city from the ground-up that takes into account two of the big mega-trends of the modern world: mobility and energy.

Combining all of John’s career experiences, John and Grayson discuss the founding on CoMotion and why John chose to build the company in LA.

If LA could change, any city could change.

– John Rossant

Staying on the theme of LA, they discuss what LA will look like in the future and the role Urban Air Mobility will play in moving goods and individuals around the city.

With the 2028 Summer Olympics coming to LA, they discuss what transportation will look like for spectators who come to LA to enjoy the experience of watching the Olympic Games in-person.

Wrapping up the conversation, John shares his vision on the future of mobility and cities.

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Privacy-First Approach to Mapping

James Wu, CEO & Co-Founder of DeepMap joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss mega-trends, high-precision maps, and DeepMap’s privacy-first approach to HD Maps.

In this episode, Grayson and James discuss HD mapping and how HD maps are enabling all SAE Levels of autonomy. The conversation starts with James discussing why he founded DeepMap with Mark Wheeler in 2016 and the opportunity they saw in the market to increase HD map efficiency.

The self-driving car problem is really hard. Hardest of all is driving without a map. It is an unsolved problem today.

James Wu, CEO & Co-Founder, DeepMap

Without a highly accurate map that updates in real-time, self-driving cars do not have a prior understanding of the environment. Self-driving cars use HD maps to increase efficiency and safety.

A 2019 Harvard Business School Case Study on DeepMap detailed the following:

Self-driving is not just a technology challenge. It’s also an economic challenge, an infrastructure challenge, a public safety challenge, and a marketing challenge.  

This challenge is shared amongst every organization working on self-driving technology. DeepMap is betting big on the trend towards a self-driving future. We firmly believe mapping is critical for increased safety and reliability, at an affordable cost.

James Wu, CEO & Co-Founder, DeepMap as featured in the Harvard Business School Case Study: DeepMap: Charting the Road Ahead For Autonomous Vehicles (2019)

It is not just Harvard Business School that is taking notice, Wall Street is also paying attention. Goldman Sachs invested in DeepMap as part of its Series B round in 2019. James speaks about what it is like to have Goldman Sachs as an investor.

[Goldman Sachs] is able to offer us a broader of the global market for autonomy. They also provide support for strategic partners.

James Wu, CEO & Co-Founder, DeepMap

The investment in DeepMap was not Goldman Sachs’ first investment in autonomy. In 2007, Goldman invested $100 million in Mobileye. Mobileye was later acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion in 2017.

DeepMap’s mapping service provides a solution for all levels of autonomy.

We must get L2 + right if we are going to reach Level 4 or 5.

James Wu, CEO & Co-Founder, DeepMap

HD Maps enhance the safety and reliability of Level 2 autonomy for drivers around the world. The conversation then naturally evolves into how to create an HD map and how the map updates in real-time.

Bringing the conversation back to the business of mapping, Grayson asks James why he made the decision to focus on privacy by allowing DeepMap’s customers to own the data generated by DeepMap’s HD mapping service.

Closing out the conversation, Grayson asks James what the future holds for DeepMap.

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Culture of Safety and Innovation

Chuck Price, Chief Product Officer, TuSimple joins Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss TuSimple’s culture of safety and innovation.

In this episode, Grayson and Chuck start by discussing the economics of applying autonomy to fleets of trucks. Grayson asks Chuck if TuSimple ever considered creating a self-driving car.

In the founding of TuSimple, Chuck discusses why the founding team focused solely on trucking from day one. The team saw a difference in the economics of self-driving trucks.

We did see a difference. We saw that there were specific economic pain points in trucking. Robotaxis were solving a problem that didn’t appear to exist.

It was a fantasy, it was science fiction. It was a future were cities did not have to have individually owned cars. Where parking issues would be resolved. This is a grand vision without clear economic drivers.

– Chuck Price, Chief Product Officer, TuSimple

The conversation then veers into the universal driver debate and the great pivot to self-driving trucks from self-driving cars. Chuck shared his open and honest opinion on the universal driver.

I do not believe there is such a thing as a universal driver. It’s a marketing term.

– Chuck Price, Chief Product Officer, TuSimple

Wrapping up the conversation around the economics of self-driving trucks and why the universal driver is not the correct approach, the conversation shifts to TuSimple’s culture of safety and innovation.

TuSimple has a corporate culture of safety which they call ‘SafeGuard”. SafeGuard applies to every single employee in the company no matter what their job function or title is. From the individuals working on the trucks to the engineers writing the code to the executives leading corporate strategy, each and every employee is measured on their contribution to safety.

What Did You Do To Contribute to Safety?

– Chuck Price, Chief Product Officer, TuSimple

Safety is built into every aspect of what the company does, from the office to the depots to the on-road deployments. Drivers and safety engineers (Left and Right Seaters) go through six months of formal training before they are even able to touch the autonomy in the truck. Each and every safety driver goes through a drug test prior to being allowed in the vehicle.

TuSimple treats it’s drivers as Blue Angels as the company requires them to operate at the highest ability at all-times. When drivers and safety engineers leave the depot, they are monitored in real-time with in-cabin monitoring and drive cams to ensure the highest level of safety.

The culture of safety and innovation is attracting partners such as UPS, Penske, U.S. Xpress, and McLane Company Inc. to work with TuSimple. As TuSimple scales, the company is working with Navistar to develop SAE Level 4 self-driving trucks at the factory which are safety certified.

Rounding out the conversation, Grayson and Chuck talk about the economics of self-driving trucks and how TuSimple Self-Driving Trucks can show an ROI after the first 24 months of purchase.

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