Today it seems like the a fully autonomous car is the new craze- Whether it’s Tesla, Udacity or Google, everyone wants to get there first. But who’s really behind the technology to allow cars and other vehicles to be programed into self driving machines? Autonomous Stuff of course!
Alan: Welcome back and visit here today with Wolfgang Juchman, he is the vice president of Autonomous Stuff, and welcome today's show.
Wolfgang: Thank you very much for having me Alan.
Alan: Before you came to the company, Autonomous Stuff, what was your background, education, roll us through bringing us up to date.
Wolfgang: As you can imagine, with a name like Wolfgang I'm originally from Germany and I grew up in the north western part of Germany close to Hanover. I studied physics, I actually have a Ph.D in physics and during my studies I spent several times in California as an exchange student and also part of my graduate work. I liked it so much that I wanted to come back here to California and now I'm here.
Alan: Going between Germany and the U. S. it seems that as the world grows smaller, one of the secret sauce behind a lot of these companies here locally from little to big is the fact that they usually have a German influence with the processes that are helping companies to scale.
Wolfgang: Yeah about but I think really the beauty about the Silicon Valley is that it has all kinds of cultures. And they're all coming together to work on a project. I was in a meeting and at some point I guess it was boring and I I looked around the room and I realized there were only two people that were born in America in the room the rest were from all kinds of other cultures and they're all contributing they all want to do the next big thing here.
Alan: I love that. A lot of people tend to forget that half of the venture money in the world exists right here in Silicon Valley and it really becomes that melting pot of collaboration of cultures coming together so anyways so moving on, you started your career here in and Silicon Valley after how many years.
Wolfgang: Well I had my first open in Germany in technical sales in a company called ScanLab and were producing galvanometer scanners, those devices that deflect laser beams for laser marking. So if you see a writing on a product that might be written in there with a laser. And then in 2001 I came over to the San Francisco Bay Area. And for 10 years I worked in the laser industry for business development. And then my last 4 years I spent at Velodyne LIDAR, which is a LIDAR company, that's the thing that's on the Google self driving car, the thing that spins on top, that's Velodyne LIDAR. I did sales and marketing there and then since January, I've been with autonomous stuff.
Alan: So when you were thinking about rolling over to autonomous stuff what helped you in influencing to join this company?
Wolfgang: Well at Velodyne LIDAR, we sold one product, that's used autonomous driving but it's really something new coming and there's a big disruption in the transportation industry that's happening right now right here in Silicon Valley and I wanted to be part of that. And the LIDAR sensor is part of it, but there's much much more. There's lots of stuff that's used to make self driving cars an Autonomous Stuff has all of that stuff.
Alan: So Autonomous Stuff- primarily their business model is to help convert the regular car over to a self driving car?
Wolfgang: Almost yes, so our business model is to help other companies to get autonomy faster. So this might be by providing sensors- automotive grade sensors that you can't buy off the street. It might also be installing them on a vehicle and everything together as we sell a platform- a car that can be made self driving. So we don't make self driving cars ourselves. But we provide platforms so other people can get autonomy faster.
Alan: So at American Dreams we have the opportunity meet at TechCrunch, and you had one of your cars up there, and one of my staff was able to go there and drive with essentially a joystick from an X-box.
Wolfgang: Exactly, yes! So inorder to demonstrate that we can control the Car by computer we have programed a game controller from the Xbox, and you can actually drive the car with it. I don't really recommend to do that on the street, because it's not made for real driving but it's quite fun to to show it off that way.
Alan: So where are we at with respect to the self driving cars? There's a lot of pros and cons in the media right right now and usually the negative tends to dominate when something goes wrong, but are we still in a bit relatively early stage, or is the market coming up to speed? You know the coming up to speed and in accepting more.
Wolfgang: I think we're right in the middle in that transition. I drive a car now that has adaptive cruise control and it also has features that keeps me in the lane- this is not by what we do, it's a Lincoln MKZ. And it comes with these features as as a standard features when you buy the car so when I'm on the phone driving I put the adaptive cruise control on and it automatically slows down and accelerates depending on what the car in front of me is doing. And in some form that's already half of the self driving. You have two controls, one is accelerating and breaking and the other one is steering so in this case I almost don't have to accelerate and brake anymore- at least on the highway- and the car does it for me. A lot of people think when they talk about self driving cars it's like there's no steering wheel anymore, I don't have to do anything I can fall asleep I think that is still quite a ways away because there's so many corner cases that you have to really think about in advance that are not all solved yet. But if you think about Audi's driver assistance features they're there and there's more and more of them coming and they really really make driving easier and also safer I guess.
Alan: Wolfgang, we need to take a quick break and we'll be right back after these messages. I'm visiting here today with Wolfgang Juchmann, he is the vice president sales and business development at Autonomous Stuff, we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back, I'm visiting here today with Wolfgang Juchmann, he's vice president of sales and business development at Autonomous Stuff. Wolfgang, as we where is we're visiting in the first segment we were talking about the primary business model of Autonomous Stuff is that of self driving cars. So right now you're one of the leaders in car autonomy and what other products and services does Autonomous Stuff offer?
Wolfgang: So we actually started off was offering a perception positioning sensor. So this is to enable cars to see what's around them. And these are sensors like cameras so of course LIDAR sensors, radar sensors but also to know where the car is, GPS devices and IMU. And then we place so I'm equipment into the car that can record all of this data storage solution for example from quantum. And customers asked us can you actually help us to put them on the vehicle, so we started putting them on, we hired engineers to put them on the vehicle. And a customer can come and say I want to have a car that I can control by computer steering, acceleration, braking and shifting through the gears- I wanna have ABC sense on it LIDAR, radar, GPS you name it and I want to be able to read in the data and so we can generate such kind of platform that's what we're offering to our customers. So that they can develop algorithms for self driving why use it for however they want to use it to be leaders in autonomy or become leaders an autonomy.
Alan: It seems like we're in the very early part of this autonomous car, and where do you see the vision of all of this going in 3-5 years?
Wolfgang: We're really at the point where transportation is changing significantly I mean right now everybody owns a car maybe even two cars but the younger generation, especially the ones that are living in cities, they're talking about not having a car anymore. It's not as important the horsepower of the car. Nowadays what's more important is does my iPhone connect to the car and can I have internet while I'm driving. Those become feature that people are more interested in than what we used to be interested in which is, as I said, cubic centimeters and horsepower in the car. So it could well be that in well populated areas ride sharing becomes more and more opportunistic. People take Ubers now, Lyft, so the next generation would be just call a self-driving taxi to drive me from A to B
Alan: And even Uber is starting to get into the autonomous car.
Wolfgang: Obviously one of the biggest cost factors- and this is my interpretation of it, I don't know if that's what Uber says- one of the biggest cost factors is the driver of course. So they could eliminate the cost for the driver by having self driving taxis, they have to invest a bit more into the car and equipment, but the car can drive 24 hours, 7 days a week. There doesn't have to be a downtime and that's one thing. The other thing they say is the more people take ride sharing, they will actually run out of drivers if they extrapolate where they are now in a few years there won't be any enough drivers, driving people around so that's another reason they need to have self driving taxis.
Alan: We tend to accept the culture of everyone needs their own card in most cases it's 2 to 3 per household but when you look at the shopping centers and that the big factories and all the cars sitting idle, this is a huge disruption to the fact that ride sharing can be more efficient.
Wolfgang: That's what people have talked about, my car I drive it to work that's when I need it, then it sits around for 8:00 hours. And during that time it could drive other people around if I could make my car available as a ride share mule car as a vehicle that other people could use. So it could actually generate money while I'm making money instead of sitting in the parking lot, I have to pay for it sitting on the parking lot, the car could drive itself around and make money.
Alan: I'm visiting here today with Wolfgang Juchmann, he is the vice president of sales and business development at Autonomous Stuff, Wolfgang, I need to take another break, and we'll be right back after these messages.
Alan: Welcome back I'm visiting here today with Wolfgang Juchmann, he is a vice president sales and business development at Autonomous Stuff. The primary driver of business for Autonomous Stuff is that of the autonomous self driving cars, but where is your company at in the industry, are you one of the leaders?
Wolfgang: Yeah I would certainly say we are one of the leaders and we're also what I would call me in the center of an ecosystem. Because we have a complete portfolio of different products and services and software, a lot of start up companies that want to play in this space come to us and they buy a sensor or they want advice so we get involved with a lot of different companies very very early on which really brings us in the middle off of this ecosystem and that's on the one side that's very small companies, startup companies in Silicon Valley, but on the other side it's also very established companies fortune 100 companies that develop products for the autonomy and need our advice for that and our products.
Alan: I've heard rumors in the future that they're looking at that the driverless drone which carries passengers, is that fiction or reality, what do you think?
Wolfgang: Well that's reality, there was a press release just yesterday by Airbus and a group here in San Jose that is developing essentially self driving air taxis but meet you get an app on your phone. And you go on top of your building and their vehicle picks it up and brings you to another building. And at least that's what the plan is and what they're working on, self driving like an Uber but in the air.
Alan: So then the Jetsons in reality I guess, the old cartoon.
Wolfgang: Well the advantage in the air is that you have less objects to actually collide with. So I think the problem might be in some sense simpler because you're in the air and you can't hit another car there's not as many as much more space in the air, you have different layers on top of each other. Of course if you do come down it's a little bit more significant than just a car accident.
Alan: So when when we're looking at the definition of an autonomous vehicle, how would you define that?
Wolfgang: Well traditionally there's different levels of level 1,2,3,4 level 1,2,3,4,5 but the big difference is, does the driver still need to pay attention on not that's really where it changes from one mode to the other mode so in my world you could actually say there's only 2 levels, one is the driver needs to be able to take over and he needs to stay awake or alert. And the other level is you can start to completely tune out and and starts. Falling asleep watching a movie or do something else. And those are the 2 different levels I think.
Alan: Tesla has recently announced that even on the model 3 all of their cars are gonna be driverless, and it seems that the media likes to pick up the negativity but they they ignore all the positives with that. When you look at the application, the technology today. What is practical in the autonomous vehicle verses what should the consumer be expecting?
Wolfgang: You shouldn't expect that you just get in your car, you press a button and the car just drives you some where. I think at the moment it's a little bit like cruise control if I drive out of my driveway I drive my. And then I get on to some kind of road where it starts becoming boring and I put it in adaptive cruise control, or one of these at advanced features that help me to drive like staying in between the lanes or something like that. The other one is if I get in a traffic jam it's very boring to sit in a traffic jam especially if it's a longer one. And there's feature is now in regular cars that allow you to follow the car in front of you, they make sure you stay in the lane, and you just flow with the traffic I can't start doing anything on emails yet while my phone because that's illegal but I can start tuning out and I can at least be a little more relaxed about it.
Alan: You see one day we can go from point A to point B using a map in the car and then tell the car just take me there?
Wolfgang: Yeah I think that will come. Just my personal opinion- it's probably more than 5 years away but it will come. It probably will be in a limited area at first where certain corner cases are known, maybe on the campus at a university where you say I want to go to from one part of the campus to another part of the campus, something where it's not completely open but there is some kind of limitation.
Alan: When you got a client coming to you and they 'hey Wolfgang, help me do an autonomous vehicle,' what your process, where do you start with them?
Wolfgang: Well first of them all I asked him exactly the same question you asked me, when you say autonomous vehicle what does that mean for you what do you really want accomplish and and how far do you want to go? And the question then results in- for example the kind of sensors or kind of platform that we would offer a customer that wants to do highway driving is very different from the platform that might be used for city driving. On the highway it's mostly forwards, directional, you need cameras and sensors that can look forward a long distance because you have to make decisions early on while in the city you have to look around a vehicle you have to see a child that might be right behind the vehicle you didn't know approaching so you have to have a very different set of sensors for city driving so the first step is what do you really want to do.
Alan: What it would be fair to say that your company helps other companies develop prototypes before they want to go into mass production?
Wolfgang: Yes absolutely, we help other companies to get to autonomy faster, so if you're thinking about getting there, if you're thinking about making autonomous vehicles you have to start somewhere and that's that's where we can give you the platform.
Alan: You're not looking at it like we'll make a mass production line but essentially when you're building a prototypes your typical order will be for how many cars at a time?
Wolfgang: Typically right now its a handful of cars for most companies customers, the larger ones we have worked with- one of them that is very well known is Nvidia. So if you've seen the videos from Nvidia, people driving around hands free and they're promoting artificial intelligence- so those vehicles that you see- those Lincoln MKZ we build for Nvidia. Obviousl Nvidia has an interest in promoting their processors the drive PX2 and the artificial intelligence and runs on these processors. But they look for us because they don't want to build their own cars- they want to put that processing power into a vehicle, hook up as many sensors as they can, and then show off their drive PX, their computing platform and the algorithms can run on the drive PX2 and for that they they look to us to make that vehicle put the cameras and sensors on there and then they can make these great videos that I'm Jen-Hsun is showing off in his presentations.
Alan: So Wolfgang, how does individual go about contacting you to learn more about Autonomous Stuff?
Wolfgang: Well you can go to our website it's www.autonomoustuff.com, and autonomous stuff is one word with one "s" in the middle and then you send us inquiry or you can give me a call and look me up on linkedin Wolfgang Juchmann, and we'll find out how we can help you.
Alan: Wolfgang, do you see that fully autonomous cars being a consumer product in the near future and how far away do you think that is?
Wolfgang: Yeah I think they can be I'm fully consumer products. I think right now it's putting on a start with ride sharing because the technology to make it autonomous- it's not at the consumer level yet it's still a little bit expensive for the normal car but if you ever ride sharing vehicle it makes sense to invest into that and I think that's where it comes. That's on the one side- the ride sharing vehicles, then on the other, these these driver assist features are going to get more and more refined. Until eventually it's actually an autonomous vehicle you just didn't notice that they help you so much that you're actually not driving anymore.
Alan: What's the broad range of customers that you deal with on a day to day basis?
I mentioned the example of Nvidia earlier, these are technology companies that want to show off the processing power, there's a whole range of customers that want to produce electric vehicles so they want to compete with Tesla, there's quite a few here in the Silicon Valley and they don't have an electric vehicle ready but they know that the autonomy level needs to be at least as good as the Tesla if not better if they wancompete with Tesla so they don't want to waste any time, they want to stop right now to develop autonomy and that's where we can give them a vehicle that they can use to develop that, and then later they transfer all of that knowledge to their own vehicle. Some of them tell me, 'I used to work in a job where I have to save pennies. Now actually I have to say for seconds' that's that's how hot this race is to get to autonomy.
Alan: It's amazing how quickly Tesla announced their full automation for autonomous vehicles. The other guys can't keep up quick enough.
Wolfgang: Exactly yes. There's also a lot of companies that want to develop the algorithms itself. Obviously they're not tied to a certain car companies so they need a platform to try these algorithms out, there's a lot of talk about machine learning and artificial intelligence and so we provide these customers with vehicles that they can try the algorithms out. Obviously research groups, essentially everybody that wants to go out, insurance companies I mean they're very interested in autonomy because the whole model of insurance might change if it's not my own car and I'm not driving anymore.
Alan: We've been primarily talking about cars, what about drones and these other types of vehicles?
Wolfgang: We talked earlier about the passenger drones that were just announced that people want to fly people but you also have the small of drones, while some of them are just used for pretty picture taking, some of them are actually starting to be used for commercial applications flying on agricultural fields, and in those cases it's easy, you can program them to follow their certain GPS patterns on the field or your mine, you can see how much digging you did in a mine. And you can do that every day you don't have to hire a pilot you can just buy one of these drones, program, and everyday it gives you a status update where you are. If you have more complicated areas, drones getting to the second level where they not only use the sensors- for example LIDAR sensors to look down, to measure volumes of how much dirt has been taken out of of a mine, but also to avoid objects so that you don't fly into a bridge or that you don't fly into a new construction crane that wasn't there yesterday.
Alan: Do you find that a government regulation is a hindrance to development and I'm directing this question at developing here in the US verses into another country.
Wolfgang: It has to be a happy medium. If you put too many regulations out there then it will definitely stifle the developmental, it will slow it but on the other side if there's no regulation, everyone could put a self driving down the road and there's nobody that controls if it's safe enough, then that's not good either. I think that needs to be some of that.
Alan: Okay Wolfgang, we're out of time today but it's been an honor having you here on our show.
Wolfgang: Thank you very much for giving the opportunity to be here.