ON CRISIS: EPISODE FIVE

feat. Gerardo Interiano & Faryl Ury | Gerardo Interiano & Faryl Ury talk about Aurora’s work with self-driving vehicles, the long-term communications mindset, getting over public misconceptions, and why aggressive communications on the company’s “safety first” commitment is paramount.

THE “ON CRISIS” PODCAST: EPISODE 5

In this episode of On Crisis, Joanna Doven is joined by Aurora’s VP of Government Relations and Public Affairs, Gerardo Interiano, and Director of Communciations, Faryl Ury. They discuss Aurora’s work with self-driving vehicles, the long-term communications mindset, getting over public misconceptions, and why aggressive communications on the company’s “safety first” commitment is paramount — especially as they seek to shape regulations for a whole new industry.

Episode 5: Gerardo Interiano & Faryl Ury - Aurora

by On Crisis Podcast

Read the Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:07):

I’m Joanna Doven. This is on crisis, bringing together PR experts, thought leaders, creatives, and CEOs here to start conversations and connect people with real life stories in crisis communications. Today is no exception. I’m so excited about our guests today. I sat down with two executives of Aurora what’s Aurora. If you don’t know, you assume we’ll find out that this company is doing big things. As we leap forward to a new world in self-driving technology or autonomous vehicles or some call it robot vehicles. We talk about what a self-driving future looks like, what it means for the everyday citizen and how we get there. Hint, hint, how we get there really boils down to how good of a job the industry is doing in communicating to people. And to legislators, how this technology will be safer than the human driver. Aurora is a big deal.

Speaker 1 (01:09):

They’re based in Pittsburgh. Thanks to Carnegie Mellon. They’ve set up a headquarters here and they’re growing very, very significantly. It’s led by former Google Tesla and Exubera executives, and they recently acquired Uber’s autonomous driving unit. This will bring their Aurora driver to the world leading ride hailing network, that transaction value the company at 10 billion and solidified their role as the most technically renowned autonomous driving leader. How exciting is it that we got to sit down with two executives there and talk about the importance of a long-term communication mindset, how to get over public miscarriage, misconceptions, and why aggressive communications on the company’s safety. First commitment is paramount, especially as they seek to shape regulations for a whole new industry. Let’s dive in. Thank you so much for joining us for on crisis. I’m so excited to have you guys as guest today, because what you’re doing in the world is really revolutionary self-driving vehicles. With us, we have Gerardo in Toronto and Faryl Uri with Aurora. Welcome.

Speaker 1 (02:21):

So how are you guys doing so someone’s in Pittsburgh, someone’s in San Francisco. Yes. I would say I’m probably the most tired of the bunch since I’m the one on the West coast, but for you, I believe it’s the middle of more than the middle of the day and her ride. Are you her joining us from Pittsburgh? I am. I recently moved to Pittsburgh from Texas a little bit over a year ago. Awesome. Awesome. Well, welcome to Pittsburgh. I’m sure you’re getting used to it. It’s a very family oriented town. You have, you have young kids, so I’m sure you like it. So finally got some good snow. So the kids have been spending a ton of time outside, which has made it much easier to be inside and working from home. It’s the best, best memories were playing the stone when I was a kid in Pittsburgh. So let’s get right to it. Talk to us about what is happening right now with Aurora. So you guys were going to come on earlier in the month, but I am scheduled conflict. So I’m kind of glad we waited because what happened between then and now is really historic deal for your company with Uber ATG. And I have to say, as you know, being from Pittsburgh, having company headquartered here, I’m just real to see your company growing. So talk to us about what happened.

Speaker 2 (03:33):

Yeah. So Aurora announced a few weeks ago that we would be acquiring Uber ATG. So it’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a multi-part deal. So first of all, we’re acquiring that team. Obviously we’re really excited about the talent and the technology that they have there and about the ability to be able to accelerate the deployment of the Aurora driver. We believe that with this talent, with this technology, we’ll be able to get the driver on our roads and into our communities more broadly and faster, right? Our mission as a company is to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly and broadly. And we think that this acquisition is very much in line and will help us deliver on that mission even, even even faster. The other exciting part of this deal is that we’ve signed an agreement, our commercial agreement with ATG and with sorry, with Uber that brings an investment from them. That’s a $400 million investment into Aurora and also has their CEO of Daraa safe sitting now on our board. This is going to be a strategic relationship that we will have with Uber going forward. That again, allows us to get that driver onto the roads and more broadly

Speaker 1 (04:36):

Yup. More brain talent to do something that is very complicated, faster and safer.

Speaker 2 (04:43):

No, absolutely. Right. I mean, this is something that is that it’s a really hard problem that we were trying to solve and we’ve been working at it for a long time. We’ve been really excited about the progress that we’ve been making and to be able to bring that talent here in Pittsburgh, right. Where we’ve been headquartered. And we’ve had our offices here from the very beginning to, to have the opportunity to increase our presence here and to, to continue to double down, right. It’s, it’s exciting time to work with Penn dot and the state government with the mayor and Domi here in the city of Pittsburgh. We’re excited to continue those relationships and continue to build on, on what we have been building over the last four years.

Speaker 1 (05:19):

And with what you’re doing, communications is so important because people don’t the average person doesn’t understand how, how this could possibly work. How could a car drive itself and how could that be safe and government relations. And of course, communicating to the government and to legislative bodies about how you’re making it safe is existential to your business. How has Pennsylvania been in terms of, you know, allowing you guys to, to safely test vehicles on the road and why, why are you here?

Speaker 2 (05:51):

So, I mean, I think for the very beginning, right, we were here because of the talent, right? There’s an incredible town. There’s Carnegie Mellon, right. We have two of our founders that are connected there. Two of them got their PhDs at CMU. One of them still continues to be a professor there. So, so it’s an incredible talent pool that’s coming and not just at a CMU, right? Like you have incredible programs at Pitt. And, and Pittsburgh continues to be a place where people want to move to. Right. Like as, as we talk about it, there’s everybody who wants to move to California and then there’s everybody else. And so to have the ability to have options,

Speaker 1 (06:25):

I’m wondering New York city, it used to be, you know,

Speaker 2 (06:31):

So yeah. So I mean, we, so we have Pittsburgh, we have Bozeman, we have Dallas, we’re excited with that with the ATG acquisition, we’re going to be announcing other offices soon. Right. And that that’s an opportunity for us to continue to attract that talent. But here in Pittsburgh, we’ve had an excellent relationship with the mayor and with Penn dot and the governor’s office. And in fact, our world was the first of all the AAV companies here in the state to, to, to be able to have that relationship with Penn dot and that Penn dot authorized for us to have our cars on the road. I’m the appointee from the governor to the highly automated vehicle advisory committee which the state set up to really advise Penn dot and the state on how it is that we test this technology more importantly, how do we deploy it?

Speaker 2 (07:10):

I think a lot of the conversations we’re going to be having with Penn dot going forward is that it’s not just about the testing and the development of this technology in Pennsylvania, but that we begin, we need to begin to make the shift of deployment. You have examples throughout the country of States where they allow the testing to happen, but when it comes to the deployment of this technology, you have companies that are looking to go elsewhere because those States prevented and here in PA here in Pennsylvania, one of the things that is really important to us is that not only do we want to continue to develop and test this technology here, but we want to be able to deploy it and in order to do so, we’re going to have to work with government to change the law and make that happen.

Speaker 1 (07:47):

Sure. And that’s the whole this is why you guys are on, because the communications is so important and, you know, Faryl, your background is incredibly interesting. You worked for tech companies that were doing things that people weren’t used to. So a square, for example you know, how are we, people are used to paying with money and credit cards, and now we have to convince business owners and, and customers to, you know, not do that anymore. How, how has it been in, in your role at, at Aurora and how, how important has it been for you to sort of over-communicate versus kind of laying low and, and just do letting the scientists and the engineers kind of do their job? Yeah. I think there’s a lot of interesting points there. One is the idea that it’s not just touting a brand, but it’s really defining an industry. And you saw that during, at square where, before we could tell people that they should swipe their card with square, we had to teach them about the concept of mobile payments. And safety was a big part of that because people were reticent

Speaker 3 (08:56):

To just swipe their card at a farmer’s market. If they didn’t understand what the technology was. And it’s similar at Aurora before we even tell people that Aurora is the company positioned to be the leader in the self-driving space, we actually have to tell people what a self-driving future might look like. And so I think that makes this job really challenging, but really exciting. I think about if you’re at Nike, for example, you absolutely have a lot of brands and communications work to do telling people that Nike is the best running shoe, but what you don’t have to do is introduce the concept of a running shoe to people. And that’s a bit of a difference between working in an industry that’s kind of brand new for people. And so I think something that Gerardo and I think a lot about is educating the public.

Speaker 3 (09:39):

So of course, working with government partners and working with reporters is extremely important, but we also want to directly talk to the public and there’s been some surveys out there that say, Hey, the public is nervous or they aren’t ready for a self-driving future. And instead of looking at that and saying, Oh, you know, that that’s very worrisome. We really look at that and say, Hey, that means we have a really big job to do, which is to educate people about what a self-driving feature would look like and really what the benefits are for society when we have autonomous vehicles on the road.

Speaker 1 (10:12):

So let’s talk about that. What does a self-driving future look like? How are you guys exploring that?

Speaker 3 (10:18):

Yeah. There’s a few different benefits we think a lot about. And once again, and I know you’re a communications pro too, so you would get this. We always want to position things in a way that’s like, Hey, what’s the impact to you? So we don’t just lead with, you know, big stats about what it means for production or something. We talk about like, what will your life be like if we have autonomous vehicles? So we talk a lot about safety and the 40,000 people that die on American roads every year and the ability to reduce those deaths. If you know, self-driving cars are on the road, we talk about the idea that there’s tons of parking lots right now, when you drive through a city and those parking lots could be turned into parks. We also think a lot about autonomous goods delivery and the idea that if you can get goods to move faster through delivery, they can get to your door.

Speaker 3 (11:07):

And I don’t just mean goods. Like, Hey, you did an online order. You were shopping and Hey, your new pair of jogger pants arrived, you know, faster than you were expecting. I actually also mean the transportation of vaccines, which is obviously very important right now, or the movement of foods or personal protection equipment. All those things we saw this year, especially how important the supply chain was and the movement of goods. And if we could speed up how quickly goods move because of autonomous trucking at a time with vehicles, that would be fantastic for society.

Speaker 4 (11:42):

Yeah. Let me add one point there, John. I mean, one of the things that we’ve heard here in Pittsburgh here in Pennsylvania is, you know, dairy farms, right? Like there are, there are limits into the markets and the dairy farmers can access because of the hours of service because of the regulatory hurdles that they have to figure out when they’re moving product from one point to another, right. Truckers have to rest. They have all these rules in place. So if it takes three days for something to get here, to get from one point to another, like there’s limits on how much, how long perishable goods can be on a truck in order for them to then be able to sell it. But if we can speed that process up and we can get product from one point to another, because we don’t have the human component in the same way, right?

Speaker 4 (12:24):

It’s not that these jobs are going away is that these jobs are going to change. But if we can get the product there from one point to another faster, that means some of the farmers and some of the, some of the folks in the dairy industry here in Pennsylvania, but it is a large industry for the state are all of a sudden going to have access to markets that today they don’t have access to. So the impact to these folks is very real. And that’s one of the things that’s probably the most exciting for us. It’s that broad impact that this technology is going to have when it’s not just about the movement of people, but it’s also about the movement of goods.

Speaker 1 (12:56):

Interesting. Yeah. There’s, there’s so much to unpack there. I mean, from a safety standpoint, I think that hits him with a lot of people, including myself. I mean, a lot of people know somebody who died from a driver who was under the influence or know somebody who knows somebody for me, it was my cousin three years ago in Florida. And you think of how the technology that you guys are working on right now could, could impact those, those very stark statistics. So talk about that from, from a safety standpoint let’s say, and if I’m going hypothetical, so if you don’t have the answer, that’s fine. We can move on, but let’s suppose I’m in an autonomous vehicle, but the person next to me, isn’t in there drinking and driving. Is there still, is that still safer? I mean, is there, if it’s not equal, if, if the vehicles aren’t all autonomous, is there still, is it still safer if find in an autonomous vehicle, what do you guys predict?

Speaker 4 (14:00):

So, I mean, it’s absolutely safer, right? Like it’s, if you think about for us as humans, right? Like there’s limited amount of information that we can constantly be taking it, right? Like we have our two eyes, we have our ears. I think we have what we see on our cell phones and we have it here and we have kids in the car. We have cell phones, we have other distractions. Right. But if you, if you take all of the sensors and all the, all the entire sensor, suite, and hardware suite that we put on these vehicles, when you think about radar and LIDAR and cameras, and the fact that they’re looking at it from a three 60 perspective, right? Like we can’t see what’s happening behind us. Right. We can’t see what’s happening on the left and the right at the same time. So to, to, to our technology, it’s just another data point.

Speaker 4 (14:43):

Right. And it’s constant, it’s literally collecting hundreds of thousands of data points every single second. So there’s this great video we have where the cars going down the street, and it’s looking at two cars right there in order to make an unprotected enough cancer. One of the most complicated, you know, maneuvers to make as a human driver is an unprotected left-hand turn. So we’re trying to figure out, when does the car go in between these, on our cars, get right here on the side, it’s also tracking about 20 different people that are on the street, wondering whether they’re going to jaywalk or not. Right. So like to the vehicle, it’s this technology, it’s just data. And so to be able to get our cars on the road, like you’re not going to have a distracted driver with a cell phone. You’re not going to have road rage.

Speaker 4 (15:27):

Like you take emotion out of it. You have a car that is constantly gathering this information and making a data-driven decision on what it is that it should do. So safety is a paramount to everything that we do. It is why it’s the first word in our mission. And it’s something that we constantly think about. And how is it that we make our roads safer? Because it is important to have an impact. I mean, to your point, I lost my best friend in occurrence and ended at the end of high school, or like so many of us have been touched by chakra fatalities either directly or indirectly. And we believe that this technology will, will make this world a safer place.

Speaker 3 (16:04):

So it’s like you’re having sort of having one set of eyes behind the wheel. This technology is giving basically exponential sets of eyes that are all looking around, keeping things safe.

Speaker 4 (16:17):

Yeah. I mean, it’s, again, it’s three different types of sensors, right? Like it’s, it’s cameras, it’s LIDAR, it’s radar. It’s constantly collecting that data. And, and in fact with the Aurora first light lighter, which is the lighter that we are just now deploying on our vehicles, which was part of our acquisition in Blackmore, this lighter allows us to see fast, to see faster and to see further, right? If you think about traditional ladder, one of the challenges is you can’t immediately make a determination on whether an object is moving towards or away from you and what the velocity of that object is with this lighter we can, right? So that’s one of the things that allowed us to go into trucking. And it’s why we’ve announced that trucking is going to be our first product because of pocket partially because of that acquisition.

Speaker 3 (17:03):

So I was just going to mention, this is also brings up another interesting point, which was the importance of making sure that the public understands what their car can and cannot do. So right now there are driver assist systems out there that helps someone maneuver the road, but there’s not like a massive deployment of self-driving vehicles. And so one of the jobs of our communications team and our government relations team is being really clear and using transparent language. So consumers know whether, Hey, they can be like, totally hands off, literally, like I’m not gonna, you know, be taking over. Or if it’s driver assist where it’s, Hey, the car is going to do a lot of things for you, but you need to be mentally aware. So you can take over at any time. And at we made

Speaker 1 (17:50):

A very conscientious decision that we would be building self-driving where a consumer is never expected to take over until it’s either they’re driving or they’re not, but it’s not this kind of halfway situation that, you know, that’s a really good point because I’ve recently had two new cars. Cause I, the first car, it was a minivan. It just didn’t fit my personality. Even though I have three kids, there was almost too much technology in it that I was supposed to do and not do. And even just from changing the radio. And when there’s, I think sometimes there’s this, when there’s too much tech, I don’t know what to do. Right. And that’s one of the reasons why, and, you know, the, the driver assist or whatever you want to call it, if it’s, you know, there would be something in front of me, sometimes it would slam on the brakes and I’m like, I’m like, Hey, that car was turning.

Speaker 1 (18:39):

And I was going to, I was, my foot was on the brake and I didn’t always feel safe in it. And then I got, I just got a different car. That is, I think well there’s a little bit less tech in it and that’s, I want it either one or the other. I mean, cruise control is another story. That’s nothing to do. You know, I don’t want my, my hands are going to always be on the wheel. But that’s, that’s a good point of clarification. I think it’s really important is for the consumer. I think of myself as somebody who’s working a lot how much productivity we lose in the car all of the time, right now, we’re working from home, most of us. But there’s going to be a point in time when the world re normalizes and we’re back into those really long, annoying commutes and the amount of productivity that one could get back by not having to try and multitask while you drive, which isn’t safe. But I can just imagine a world where I’m driving to New York to see a client and autonomous vehicle, and I’m on my laptop working right. Getting, you know, my Workday done.

Speaker 2 (19:48):

Good. Sorry. I want to say that the average commuter spends about 40 minutes a day in their car. Right. Like, and that’s in places like here. Right. But if you think about folks like some folks in California, you’re talking like two or three hours a day York similar, right? Like, so imagine that productivity that folks can have back just on your daily commute, much less when you start to think about those types of trips, where we’re driving to Washington DC or Philadelphia or New York, and you can get that productivity back. But you’re, you’re absolutely right. I think the efficiencies that you begin to get with this technology and how we structure our days and how cities build themselves. Right. But Faryl mentioned earlier, like the, the way that we think about cities and parking lots, right? Imagine if every single one of those parking lots becomes a park.

Speaker 1 (20:35):

I never thought of that, but it makes so much sense.

Speaker 2 (20:38):

Well, you just, you start to change things and you start to use your resources more efficiently.

Speaker 1 (20:42):

I love that. So let’s pivot a little bit to public perception right now in the industry because it’s certainly paramount to the success of, of the entire industry. Talk to my audience about some of the most common misperceptions of self-driving vehicles. What’s kind of, what are you seeing in some of the pooling you’ve done surveys?

Speaker 3 (21:10):

Yeah. I think one of them is what we talked about if this difference between self-driving and driver assist and the feeling that people say, Oh yeah, I have a self-driving car. And actually they don’t. And that really shows the importance of transparency and language and ensuring people know what their car can and can’t do. I think so some people think that it’s already here and that’s actually not true. And then there’s kind of the opposite side of things where people feel that this will never get there and they feel frustrated with how long it feels. It seems to be taking. And I think for that, it’s our job to unders- like help people understand what the technology is like, what it’s involved in terms of building this technology and why it must be challenging and why it takes so long and what we really need to do to get it right.

Speaker 3 (22:01):

I also think in terms of some of the research we see, as I mentioned, people are nervous about the technology and two that we really say it’s on us to, to educate them. And we also say we’ve seen that time and time again. So there’s some funny examples that we think about actually where people just really didn’t trust technology and came out with some odd predictions. So actually when the first iPhone came out, there was a tech crunch piece. One of the tech, you know, news magazines where it predicted, we predict the iPhone will bomb. The virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out emails and text messages as a rotary phone. That’s a quote. I just, I just got a kick out of, and I understand it cause people weren’t sure what to expect. And then Newsweek magazine back in 1995, they ran a piece on the internet, which predicted that the network would never amount to anything. And we even see that when horse, you know, when horse and buggy was going to be replaced by the car, people were really dubious. And even with the printing press, people had questions. So I think those are some of the misconceptions saying like, Hey, I’m not sure if I want this in my life. And so the more we can expose people to our technology, the more people see our cars on the road, hopefully the more they’ll understand it and be excited about a self-driving future.

Speaker 1 (23:15):

Yeah. And it’s getting to those early adopters. And I think the first early adopter are governments right now, right. State governments getting, getting them to allow for deployment. As you mentioned, Gerardo, what’s the next step in that with regard to what your work in Pennsylvania,

Speaker 4 (23:33):

I hate, I think we’re going to have to, here, here, we’re going to have to work with the legislature, right? Like we’re working really closely with penn.to create what those guidelines could look like and what, what it is that the legislature needs to do in order to allow for these vehicles to be able to be deployed. But under [inaudible] current interpretation right now, what we can not remove the human driver from the vehicle whenever we believe it’s safe to do so, rather than our commitment to large cities to, for our employees, to all of our partners is we will never remove the human driver from behind the wheel of a vehicle until we believe that it was safe enough to do so. So today every single one of our cars has two safety drivers in them at all times, any one employee at the company can shut down the entire fleet if they have any concerns from a safety perspective, right?

Speaker 4 (24:19):

Again, safety is really important to everything that we do. But we also don’t want to be in a position here in Pennsylvania, that whenever we get the technology to that place where we believe it is safe enough to do so that we’re not going to be able to do so because the laws don’t allow us to do it. Whereas there are other States that do allow for that to happen already. So our goal is to work with the legislature and government to, to create that path to commercialization so that we can bring this technology to market and be able to deploy it here in Pennsylvania.

Speaker 1 (24:48):

Well, I’m, I’m certainly pushing for it. I think, you know, too often, you know, our state and this is me talking too often, our state kind of waits a little too long. And I’m, I’m hoping that that there’s, that there’s some movement on this because what, what you’ve done in Pittsburgh with Aurora to already help the community has been amazing. I mean, I saw Pittsburgh public schools, students receive computers as a result of a partnership that you created. And you know, I, you know, I used to work with the public schools helping them with crisis communications and I, I know firsthand the digital divide that exists in the district. So you guys have been in an amazing community partner and we wanted it to keep growing in Pittsburgh. Talk to me about some other local initiatives you guys have been embarking on as you look to be more, more cemented in Pittsburgh.

Speaker 4 (25:47):

Yeah. So one of the things that we’re probably the most excited about is our new headquarters. So we’ve been in Lawrenceville for the last several years, I think, and Faryl, keeps me honest. I think this is going to be our fourth or fifth office. Since we opened up our first headquarters here, I mean, in four years, we’ve moved just as many times because we continue to outgrow our space. So I mean the growth Israel, I have to give you one, one statistic that just baffles me is Aurora today, right before the ATG acquisition is roughly 600 employees of those 600, 200 have been hired just during the pandemic, right? So there’s 200. A third of the company has, has never had to go into another office every single day, right? There are some people that are going in because they need to, and they need to be able to, to continue to get their work done so that the rest of the company can, can continue to work remotely. But that’s a huge amount of growth. So moving into our new headquarters at, on small ministry. So at 16th, Smallman right across

Speaker 2 (26:44):

From the terminal. We’re moving into that space sometimes couldn’t, couldn’t be more excited about it. And then probably one of the partnerships that we work with the most closely is girls of steel. So, you know, diversity and inclusion is something that’s really important to us as a company. And I talk about it in a couple of different ways. One of my favorite stories is that when YouTube was bought by Google 10% of videos were uploaded upside down and the engineers are trying to figure out why 10% of videos were always coming up upside down. And it was actually very simple for biggest for 90% of the world. They hold their phone like this, the other 10% of the world holds their phone like this. There were no lefties on the team. And so nobody realized that left-handed people held their phone differently, and that’s why the videos were uploaded upside down.

Speaker 2 (27:33):

So diversity and inclusion for us is really important because we believe that our product is going to be better if it represents the people that are going to use it. And so working with organizations like girls of steel, that’s promoting more diversity in technical roles, that’s encouraging young women to pursue these incredible careers. You know, our partnership with them. And our hope is that one day, these girls that are studying computer science that are working in robotics today are going to be the ones that we are hiring to help design the next Aurora driver and the next technology that we’re going to be rolling out. So, you know, it’s pretty incredible to have that organization that’s headquartered here in Pittsburgh and, and awesome to see the work that they do in robotics. But that’s just one of the other components that that’s really important to the work that we do.

Speaker 1 (28:18):

Awesome. I love it. I love it. And I just can’t believe how much you guys are growing in Pittsburgh. And, you know, in my former role as press secretary for the mayor, from what 2000 and gosh, six-ish to 2013 you know, I witnessed our city just sort of started bubbling and getting, getting cool again, restaurants, okay, then Google and CMU and tech, and to see where we are now in 2020, I kind of, I’m just like, I feel so I feel so lucky to live here.

Speaker 2 (28:50):

You’re there at the beginning of the Renaissance.

Speaker 1 (28:52):

Hey, I was part of the Renaissance, not just there. I mean… There’s so many stories. I mean, I can remember like, Google’s first couple employees and, you know, bakery square because one, a capital is still a client of ours. And them deciding to break ground in 2007, that was at the height of the recession. And they’re like, we’re going to break ground and they couldn’t get financing. And we had, we were involved in like flying people from Texas to find financing for this project, that bakery square which now look at it, it’s, it’s bursting at the seams. There’s no more office space left there and they’re going to continue to grow. So you have those two pockets of Pittsburgh. You have the East end with, you know, Google kind of you having their hold there. And then now the strip district and Lawrenceville corridor, which it looks like you guys are going to be the growing there and having a strong presence there. So it’s kind of, we’re lucky. We’re excited about it.

Speaker 3 (29:58):

Yeah. Sometimes I feel like we’re so focused on kind of the day-to-day work that it’s, it’s great to have these moments where you can take a step back and be like, wow, we’re actually part of the next revolution of transportation. And we don’t exactly understand that. I think when we’re in that moment, kind of like what you were referring to during your time working with the mayor, but then you take a step back kind of look at it from, you know, a wide lens and, and it’s really exciting and it’s exciting that it’s happening in Pittsburgh. And I think our hope is that the community of Pittsburgh also takes a moment to kind of realize what’s happening. Right, right. In our very backyard here.

Speaker 1 (30:34):

You’re right. I think that’s, that’s something that we all need to do is just sort of like slow down with it because you hear, you know, the news media is changing constantly Faryl. I mean, you’re with your background at the AP and what NPR you really understand. And then you were a press secretary to, to a us Senator. So you really, you worked in the news media and you still do, but for a very long time, you see how much it’s changing. And it’s not always the case that the positive stories of growth and development get out because it’s always, I mean, the news right now is just very, it’s just different. And that’s all I’ll say.

Speaker 3 (31:13):

Well, I’ll, I’ll add onto that, that I think one of the biggest interesting media trends I’ve seen over my career is that you used to be completely reliant on local state and national press to get your story out. And that’s just not the case anymore. It doesn’t mean that we don’t work every single day with the media to get our story out because we absolutely do. And that’s an incredibly important validator for our company and technology, but we also spend a lot of time going directly to the consumer. And that was the case when I worked for Senator Shaheen as well. So I remember when she and I were interviewing, she basically said like, Hey, I can’t get the New Hampshire reporters to cover me sometimes because they’re either covering a school football game or they’re covering a snow storm, or they’re covering Senator John Kerry, who is more well-known.

Speaker 3 (32:02):

And even though he’s in Massachusetts, he takes up a lot of the airtime. Like how can we talk directly to our constituents? And that’s when we said like, Hey, Senator Shaheen, we’re going to get you on Facebook. We’re going to get you on Twitter. We’re going to work on the Shaheen report, a constituent newsletter and no longer did we have to rely on the New Hampshire paper solely to talk to constituents. And you see that very much now at Aurora as well. So in addition to, of course, working with the press, we also have our own blog where we’re constantly doing deep dives into our technology. What is perception mean? How are we building our safety case, et cetera, et cetera, and can talk directly to the people that we want to investors, partners and talent, who we want to come join Aurora.

Speaker 1 (32:45):

I love it. I mean, you hit the nail on the head that for anyone doesn’t matter, if you’re nonprofit or a company that’s revolutionizing driving, you have to tell your own story and build up your own media channels. So your website, your social media blogs, as you mentioned, are you guys doing work in video?

Speaker 3 (33:04):

Yes. Video is very important too, because people really want to see and understand what this is like. So we’ve even been able to do some drone videos, which has been pretty cool. So you can see what it’s like when a car actually does an unprotected left. So that’s been, yeah. Video has been huge. And also when we work with the press, we understand that reporters are, are interested in delivering to their readers, multimedia stories. So the more kind of visuals we can get video, photo infographics, et cetera, the better kind of packaged story we can, we can provide to our people and to our press.

Speaker 1 (33:37):

Totally. Especially now because, you know, press conferences aren’t really existing. Like they used to and media availabilities are totally different. It’s

Speaker 3 (33:48):

Yeah, it’s totally different. And I think even how media companies are approaching things is really different. So I had the privilege of being at the associated press right around the time when social media was popping up and they kind of looked at me and they said, Hey, you were in the same dorm as Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard. Right. And I was like, yeah, that’s true. And they said, well, can you help us figure this out? And at that time it was starting the Associated Press’ first Twitter account, and first Facebook account, understanding how we could leverage those tools to get news out to people faster. And it’s exciting just to see how that’s changed for, for the better and for the worst since then.

Speaker 1 (34:26):

And then the other side of that is okay, so now you can say, I love as I can protect. So fun fact. So I was on semester at sea in 2004. Okay. That’s when Facebook started. So I was with one of, have you heard a semester at sea? The floating cruise around the world. Okay. So for our audience, it’s really fun. A hundred days, you, you basically take school on a cruise ship while it’s at sea, and then you’re in 10 countries and you get to see the world as, as a college student very quickly. And so Mark Zuckerberg’a friend named Stan, still friends on Facebook, he’s like, “Hey, my friend started this thing. Can you join it?” And of course I, I was like, yeah. And so I was… Me and a few friends who’ve really were like one of the first, like 2000 people to have a Facebook account.

Speaker 1 (35:13):

And I decided it would be smart to post a picture of me smoking a Cuban cigar as my profile picture. I was 19 years old and for years that, and so then I become the press cigarettes to the mayor and I’m like an official rule. So for years, that was the picture was online on the internet. I haven’t found that recently don’t look for it, but just sort of, you don’t realize impacts of it. And now here we are. It’s just, it’s just totally amazing. So, but speaking of social media, it can truly benefit you as you get your story out and you can reach consumers directly and even, even business owners, businesses, things like that. But what about the worry that you have with fake news, with how quickly a story could get out there and go viral about something let’s say related to self-driving technology that maybe isn’t true and how fast that can happen and how fast you, your reputation could be impacted. Does that keep you up at night?

Speaker 2 (36:12):

Yeah. I mean, I think that’s exactly what Faryl and I work on every single day, right? It’s, it’s about building relationships of trust with the media, with our stakeholders, with government, so that when somebody sees that if it’s about the industry or even worse, if it’s about Aurora, right? If it’s a, if it’s a story, fake story about us as a company that it’s not going to match what people know about us, right? That, that somebody, whether it’s in government or in the media and the public are going to say, this just doesn’t match the, what I know it doesn’t match the personality. It doesn’t match the work that this company does and that they’re going to call us. Right? Like our commitment to our government stakeholders is that we, we w we, we will do everything possible to never surprise them. And that’s something that we, we constantly talk with them about, like, we will do what we can to give them a heads up before something is coming down the pipeline. I, in an ideal world, they never read something about Aurora in the newspaper, right? Like they’re going to have heard from us beforehand.

Speaker 1 (37:08):

Well, then I have somebody who worked with governor. That’s very smart strategy. That’s

Speaker 2 (37:13):

Yeah. Is if they’re reading something in the media, that is a huge thing, and we haven’t given them a call about it, then please reach out to us and call us. And we’ll go one step further with some of our government partners and say, if constituents are calling you and complaining about us or, or, or asking questions, let us be a resource to you, let us help you get those answers, call us and tell us what feedback that you’re getting. Cause we’re certainly interested in knowing that information as well. So again, it has to be, you know, my general rule of thumb with government is we never want to show up as an, in an offense when we need something from them, right. We want to build that relationship over time. We want them to trust us. We want them to know who we are as a company, how it is that we think about safety, what are our priorities, so that when those situations happen or when something goes wrong, they’re going to, we’re going to have that relationship that’s already based on trust, but that’s only, that’s something that has, that takes time.

Speaker 1 (38:05):

And what we’re seeing right now play out with Google and, you know, the FTC and Facebook, you know, being a technology-based company that has to give you guys pause and maybe do more soft reflection with regard to, you know, how are you communicating? How are you being transparent? And because you don’t want to end up in the hot seat like some of those in the industry, separate industries, but it’s technology. Right? And, and, and I think,

Speaker 3 (38:36):

You know, my opinion is what’s happening right now in the public with these big technology companies and their CEOs there has to be some downstream downstream impacts to the perception game that you guys are fighting daily. You know, that are you, are you, are you worried about that at all? Or are you watching it closely?

Speaker 2 (39:01):

I mean, look, I think so. There’s a, there’s a great quote by [inaudible] who said you may not be interested in government, but government will always be interested in. So as a general rule, I think startups needs to begin to engage government far too late, like particularly in the technology sector, right? Like I think the technology sector has this mentality of let us innovate, let us do our work, stay out of our way. We don’t want to engage with government, but we want to continue to do our work. I think that’s wrong. Right? I think, I think we have to engage with our government partners and we have to do so early. And I think this is where I truly give a lot of the credit to our CEO. Chris Urmson, you know, Chris has done this already once with Waymo. He was the founder of the Google self-driving car project.

Speaker 2 (39:43):

He came out of CMU. He won the DARPA challenges. He’s been in this industry over 20 years. So he understands the work that has to happen for us to be able to deploy this technology. And he has chosen to invest in our teams and to invest in the growth of our teams as we continue to grow and scale as a company so that we can do this correctly. And we can engage with government in a really meaningful way, right? Like this is not just lipstick on a pig. It’s not checking a box. Like it is a, a really meaningful relationship that we want to build with government to be able to do that. But I think that it’s, that that’s part of the culture that we have at the company. And it’s part of our priority to be able to work with government, to achieve our goal of delivering this technology broadly.

Speaker 3 (40:27):

And I think you’re seeing some different hiring trends, the companies that are getting this right, they don’t just hire the top senior engineers to begin their company or the top product managers. They’re also bringing in senior communications professionals and senior public affairs professionals, because their strategy has shifted to where they are proactive. They’re going to Capitol Hill, they’re introducing themselves. I remember early days of square instead of waiting for someone to knock on our door and say, Hey, mobile payments, credit cards, Bitcoin. This all seems sketching and conflating that all. And holding a hearing that we had to appear to. We actually set up meetings proactively and met with different senators, different house members and said, Hey, did you know that square is in your neighborhood? This is how many small businesses are using the technology. This is how much increased revenue it’s driven and how many new jobs it’s created. And that way, if, and when a problem arose or someone in the government or someone in the media had a question they’d already met us, they understood who we are and what we stood for. And I think the broader point there is you need to bring people along on your journey that can feel scary. And I think that, you know, your instinct might be like, Hey, let me just put my head down and work, but perception becomes reality and you need to engage stakeholders and you need to do so early

Speaker 1 (41:43):

Well said emotional intelligence for the win. I mean, that’s it. And you know, you’re just, I mean, it’s also, it’s about being a little humble, right. And, and you guys are doing it right. So congrats, congrats. I know we don’t have a lot of time, so I have a couple more questions and then I’m gonna say goodbye. When we talk about the digital divide and the haves and the haves and the have-nots, you know, you look at transportation, you know, you look at who has access to public transportation who has access to vehicles and how does that impact, you know, economic disparities? What are you guys looking at for when, when self-driving vehicles become our future, which it will happen. We don’t know when, but it’s going to happen because of companies like yourselves, what does that look like for our urban communities? For, for, you know, our African-American communities that might not have transportation access, is, is it going to be better for them? W what are you guys looking at

Speaker 3 (42:51):

Podcast I’d actually recommend after people listen to this one on, on that note is from this American life, the longest distance between two points. And it’s about a woman who is disabled, and she relies on a paratransit service called access a ride. And it’s for passengers who are disabled and elderly. And she talks about kind of every morning going out in the snow, and maybe she waits one or two hours for her ride to come. And maybe if they drive by too quickly and they don’t see her, then she has no way to flag them back. And she goes inside and she misses work that day. And that’s something that we’ve talked about a bit as a company, people who don’t have access to get to work, or don’t have access to get to their doctor’s appointments, or can’t see their family on holidays, because they don’t have a way to move around. And I think that’s really a big motivating factor. So that’s, to your question, that’s absolutely something on our mind is for people who don’t have access to fantastic public transportation, whether it’s because of where they live or because of a disability, or because of their advanced age, that’s something that, that autonomous technology can help solve.

Speaker 1 (43:58):

So in other words, it could look, it could look like a government partnership where access, we realized doesn’t work well, and the government partners with Aurora to give better access to disabled to the disabled community. Is that, I mean, I mean, I’m sure you’re not thinking of what it looks like exactly because we’re not there yet, but you have to be getting those questions now.

Speaker 2 (44:21):

So, so I, I do think we’re thinking about exactly what that looks like, right? Like it’s part of our mission, right? We, we come back to our mission on this point. It’s, it’s that broadly component where we don’t want this technology to just be accessible to somebody who can afford it, you know, and they want to send a car to go run an errand for them. Right. Like I think about who is the single mother who has to take three different bus routes to get to work. And if we can cut that time and by a third or half, and give her that time with her family, like how meaningful that is. Each insurance had a great study a few years ago where they talked about, like, what is the impact of self-driving technology to your average American family and the cost savings to a family of four, I believe was equal to seven, seven months worth of groceries, right?

Speaker 2 (45:07):

So like, if you start to put real data and real numbers behind that, the impact of families where they w when we can make this technology accessible to everybody. Right. And we think about, we think about those families that right now can’t afford it. And we’re, we’re transportation. Doesn’t serve them. We think about somebody with a disability, and we think about a senior citizen, right? What does it mean when we take away a senior citizens keys and what that, what that, what that does to their mental health, what that, what that does to their ability to spend time with family, if we can give them that freedom back, like what, what does that mean to those families? So I think that broadly part of our mission is exactly that it’s understanding how is it that we deploy this technology so that everybody can have access to it, and we can truly improve everybody’s life.

Speaker 1 (45:50):

I think that’s one of, for me, that’s one of the biggest sell points, right? Is how this is going to improve people’s lives. Like on the, everyday on the everyday, you know, safety is something that matters to everyone, you know, when the fatalities matter and it, it, you know, hits you, but when you can start communicating about how now my grandma can come see me for Christmas, because I’m not going to drive an hour to get her. I can’t, I’m cooking dinner, right. Or my kids that are going to school when I have to drive them, and I lose two hours of my Workday. Now I can, I can call an autonomous vehicle and save time and save money. It’s just, I want you to tell me when it’s going to be on the roads two years, three. I’m kidding. I know you can’t answer that. We’re going to have to talk to Tom Luff. Right?

Speaker 2 (46:45):

Look, here’s here’s, here’s what we would say on that point. I think we addressed it briefly earlier. We’re not going to set a timeline until we believe that our technology is safe for the new human driver, right. That’s when we’re going to deploy this technology, right. When we believe that we, that it is safe enough to deploy, we will deploy it because we believe that the impact is very real, right? Like it’s not lost on us that the, every day that passes and every year that passes it, this technology is not out there. You have families that are losing loved ones to traffic fatalities. So, you know, you, you, again, coming back to our mission, it’s safely, quickly and broadly, right? The quickly side of it is because we know that the impact is very real to so many different families. So yes, we’re going to do it safely.

Speaker 2 (47:27):

But as soon as we believe that it is enough to deploy, we want to get it out there as, as quickly and as broadly as possible. And that’s why our partnership model is so important, right? It’s why we have partnerships with companies like Uber. Now, it’s why we’re looking to partner with OEMs and truck manufacturers and logistics companies, because we’re not going to do this alone. We’re going to do this with our partners. And those partners are who’s who are those that are going to be able to deploy this technology more broadly and more quickly, because we believe that the impact is so real

Speaker 1 (47:58):

Amazing. And, you know, I, what I see from my little seat here is I see a roar becoming a hue and even larger part of the Pittsburgh community. And, you know, we built, we built the still that empowered steel that empowered the world and built so many things from Pittsburgh that improve the entire world. And I think what you’re doing here right now, we’re going to look back at this 20 years from now, 50 years from now, and, and be really proud, be really Pittsburgh proud. So we really appreciate you coming onto the podcast today at Faryl, you are doing an amazing job. And I have to say that whoever whoever’s running HR, Tamara’s doing the best job at the mall, because two great fix here. So

Speaker 2 (48:49):

Thanks for having us and

Speaker 1 (48:51):

For having us. And I’m going to track down that cigar photo right after this. So I could tell you a story. I mean, that haunted me for like a good five years, but I don’t even smoke cigars. I don’t even like that.

Speaker 5 (49:05):

Hey guys, thanks for coming.

EPISODES

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 6

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 6

featuring Chris Togneri | In this episode, Pittsburgh's Public Information Officer Chris Togneri gives his insider's perspective on the current state of journalism, the power of social media, and the bygone era when local journalism got it right: when editors...

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 4

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 4

Allison Bentley talks about applying her lessons-learned at an international retail company to help differentiate a new startup in an evolving industry from its many competitors.

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 3

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 3

Top legal mind who represents dozens of school districts, Ira Weiss, discusses the importance of having a robust school district communications plan, especially right now.

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 2

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 2

Senior Managing Director of a large independent advisory firm, Mike Shebak, shares how they pivoted daily client communications during the COVID-19 crisis.

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 1

ON CRISIS: EPISODE 1

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rich Lord talks about the changing media landscape and what that means for managing news media during crises.

THE “ON CRISIS” PODCAST

Hosted by Joanna Doven, Premo CEO and one of the youngest big city mayoral press secretaries in the United States, On Crisis is a podcast that delves into a daunting challenge that all sectors inevitably face: how to skillfully navigate a crisis. Joined by guest speakers of all industries, Doven takes you “inside the crisis,” discussing real-time decision-making and providing helpful takeaways that can be applied to any business plan.

New episodes airing regularly. Check back soon! 

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