March 7, 2022

Hitting the Road with Embark Self-Driving Trucks

Plus: A status update on self-driving cars

Nora and Scott get the lowdown on the latest autonomous vehicle tech news with Morning Brew Emerging Tech reporter Hayden Field. Then, we’ll take a look at how that technology is currently being used in the long-haul trucking industry with Alex Rodrigues, co-founder and CEO of Embark Trucks.

Full transcript for this episode below.

Scott Rogowsky: We're talking trucks. We're trucking today.

Nora Ali: We're trucking today. I give a truck, you give a truck, we all give trucks today.

Scott Rogowsky: If you don't give a damn, we don't give a truck.

Nora Ali: And specifically self-driving trucks, which is a whole other beast. Have you ever been in a self-driving vehicle, period? 

Scott Rogowsky: No. I mean, are they even around? I hear so much about it, but are they on the road right now?

Nora Ali: There's betas going around, but obviously, you do have to have someone behind the wheel to take over if needed, and there is definitely a need for people to take over now. So it's pretty far from being on the roads en masse.

Scott Rogowsky: With all the self-driving, it sounds like it's going to be like the self checkouts at CVS or grocery stores where you still have to call the person over every time you try to swipe the bananas. It doesn't seem to actually be automated, really. It's just more of a pain than anything else, but maybe that's just in the grocery aisle.

Nora Ali: Not yet, but it will be. There's so many companies working on the tech, and that is what we are talking about today. All about self-driving vehicles. And first, we're learning about how self-driving tech is evolving and how it's impacting other industries with Morning Brew's emerging tech reporter, Hayden Field. And then we're speaking with Alex Rodrigues, the founder and CEO of Embark, which is a company leading the industry in software and tech development for self-driving trucks. From Morning Brew, this is Business Casual. The podcast reveals the unexpected business story behind everything. I'm Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you conversations with creators, thinkers, and innovators who can tell us what it all means and why we should care. Now let's get down to business.

Nora Ali: So we're talking self-driving tech, but Hayden, Scott and I were discussing that. There's a little bit of confusion right now, about what actually exists, what's available for consumers to purchase when it comes to self-driving tech. And Morning Brew reported last April in Emerging Tech Brew that 62% of Americans incorrectly believe that a fully self-driving vehicle is available for consumers to purchase somewhere, anywhere in the world. But that is not true. So where are we right now in terms of the technology development?

Hayden Field: So right now, it is really confusing because not only are there different levels of self-driving, but there's also just a lot of marketing speak around it. And that makes it a little confusing. It's basically like there's 20 different names for the same thing, nowadays, especially in marketing materials for different automotive companies. So basically, the situation right now is you can't buy a fully self-driving car right now. It's not on the market. It's not possible. They don't even exist. The only thing that comes close is robo-taxis, which are deployed in a specific zone under certain conditions. And they are very, very heavily regulated, and no one's really driving. You're just a passenger. It's like getting into an Uber or a Lyft, except there's no driver. It's just a self-driving vehicle, and you're in the back. So that's the only thing we have right now that comes close to fully self-driving. All of the other things that are marketed as such, for example, Tesla's Full Self-Driving, is only a Level 2 system, which basically means you still have to be in control as the driver. Kind of like cruise control, in a way. If you put on cruise control, maybe you can relax a little bit, but you still need to be on high alert in case anything happens. It's the same with most self-driving systems right now that come in a car that you'll buy.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah, you mentioned Level 2 here. So there are levels ranging from zero to five that classify a self-driving car's level of autonomy, that I guess the Society of Automotive Engineers created. Can you break those levels down for us? You just mentioned number two is partial automation.

Hayden Field: Absolutely, yeah. So level zero is no automation. My car from 1992 would've been that. Level 1 is driver assistance. So that's basically a system that assists with steering, acceleration, deceleration, but it doesn't take full control. It just assists you with those different features. One example would be automatic emergency breaking. And then there's Level 2, which is partial automation, what we just talked about. They can provide a couple of different tools and assist you with a couple of different features, maybe steering and acceleration or lane centering and adaptive cruise control, more than one. One example would be Tesla's Full Self-Driving, which is kind of a misnomer. And then there's Level 3, conditional automation, which is a system that can basically steer, break, navigate, do a lot of different things, but humans need to be on high alert, ready to take over in case anything happens. And then the final one that we have available right now is Level 4, high automation. So a self-driving system that can basically do everything. You don't need to intervene. If something goes wrong, you're pretty much fine. The car can take care of itself. Maybe it can pull over if something's going wrong, or maybe there's some type of fail-safe. One example is Waymo's driverless rideshare/taxis, which exist right now in Arizona. They have a geofence domain that they operate within. And so that means, there's some control. They can't just go anywhere, but they're pretty much the closest thing we have to true fully autonomous self-driving. Level 5, full automation, which basically means autonomous vehicles that can do whatever, whenever, any weather condition, any place, they're safe. We don't have that yet.

Scott Rogowsky: They can flick off people who cut you cut you off here?

Hayden Field: They can do it all.

Nora Ali: They have road rage, too. Hayden, you mentioned that FSD, or Full Self-Driving, for Tesla is a bit of a misnomer because it's not fully self-driving. So these levels, these definitions are not that straightforward and marketers have, it seems, capitalized on this. So how does that contribute to some of these misconceptions for people thinking that maybe we are a little bit further along in this technology than we actually are?

Hayden Field: Yeah, it can be really confusing, just like much of marketing materials for anything. There's some standardization, but it's not straightforward to the public at all. Marketers will sometimes push terms like Level 2-plus or Autopilot. Basically, there's a couple of different problematic expectations that come from these materials, and there's some regulation happening about it. A German court ruled last year that Tesla can't use the word "autopilot" in language advertising the vehicle sales in Germany. And AAA did a study that found that consumers can encounter as many as 20 names for a single feature. So it's pretty confusing. The other problematic thing is that offerings vary between different carmakers. So you're never really sure exactly what you're going to get with all this language. But the one consistent thing is that if you look at the definitions of the levels, they're always consistent.

Nora Ali: So there's all these different levels of autonomy. And there's also different kinds of technology that fuel self-driving vehicles. Can you talk to us about maybe just the major pieces of advanced tech that make up an autonomous vehicle? And some of the disagreements as well around things like LIDAR, which I'm sure many of us have heard about before.


Hayden Field: So, yeah, there's a couple different components that go into any type of self-driving car. So you've got the body, which is the vehicle itself, what you think of when you see a car. You've got the eyes, which basically means a perception stack that is made up of cameras, radars, ranging sensors, even light detection, and those sensors are often known as LIDAR. They use basically a pulse laser to measure the range between the car and something else, and kind of do a little map around the car of what all of these different signals make up. So using LIDAR, a car could, for example, ping little lasers off of a passenger that's passing in front on the crosswalk, or maybe a building that you're passing by to see it rather than using a camera, for all intents and purposes. So that's one of the most common ways that a self-driving car sees. Another way that is kind of gaining steam right now is radar, which is basically using sound waves to do the same thing. One of the most common companies right now that's doing that is Oculii. So there's a couple different technological advancements happening right now in the space of the best way to make AVs see. So we'll see which one ends up becoming the cheapest and the easiest for carmakers to integrate into their whole plan.

Nora Ali: What's your prediction of what's going to end up winning out? Because we know that Elon Musk has been against LIDAR in the past because it's expensive. And then LIDAR proponents have said, "Oh no, it's actually becoming cheaper." So what do you foresee as being the winning tech?

Hayden Field: Honestly, it changes depending on the month and the advancements I see. But right now, I think just because LIDAR has so much hype around it and so many startups in the space, I think it's in the lead. I think that some of the other technologies are actually sometimes even more efficient, but I think LIDAR is going to be the one that ends up maybe just cornering the market. For example, a CEO of one of the LIDAR startups that we've spoken to in the past year told us that 15 years ago, LIDAR sensors cost $40,000 apiece, and now it's more like 4,000. So the cost has come down a lot and they work pretty well. So I think that might be the one that ends up taking the lead.

Scott Rogowsky: LIDAR sounds like something out of Napoleon Dynamite.

Hayden Field: It really does.

Scott Rogowsky: So a lot of this is to keep the driver safe, right? I mean, safety has to be the primary goal of self-driving cars other than the major payout for these companies involved in AVs. So what are some of the major causes of dangerous situations on roads? I know there are tons of deaths every year happening in car accidents. How can the technology behind self-driving cars solve these safety issues?

Hayden Field: Human error right now causes 94% of all crashes. Usually from basically distraction, drunkenness, driver error, just general driver error, or drowsiness. So those are four of the most common reasons why you might crash. And last year there were, I believe, upwards of 15,000 motor vehicle crash fatalities in the US alone. So there's a lot of problems right now. Basically standardization and technology that operates in a constant environment with constant levels of performance might be able to help with that. But it's controversial right now because some people say, "Do we even need autonomous vehicles? Maybe not." Some people say, "Yeah, we really do, basically to save us from ourselves." And even if you're a great driver, there's going to be situations that you just can't foresee. And so technology is poised to potentially help us with that.

Nora Ali: And there's also the psychological piece of it for passengers maybe not wanting to ride shotgun to software, that's a piece of a quote from a Morning Brew article. But you've also written about autonomous delivery vehicles, for example, like Neuro and companies like Walmart, Argo, and Ford are working on delivery where you might not even be shuttling around a person, it's just shuttling around goods. What is the lay of the land for autonomous delivery, just generally? And do you think that's going to become mainstream more quickly than, say, Tesla being fully autonomous?

Hayden Field: I definitely, definitely think so. I think it's a lot easier for people to come to terms with having autonomous delivery, having goods delivered to them with an autonomous vehicle or even autonomous taxis, for example, than to kind of mainstream the other type of things. It's a lot easier to conceptualize, and it also a lot easier to regulate. When you're not moving people and you're moving just goods, there's less risk involved. It's easier to fast-track things. Yeah, we definitely are seeing that happen. In January, a company called Nuro that you just mentioned debuted its newest delivery robot. And it's actually right now one of the only companies to be operating fully self-driving vehicles on public roads here in the US. That means there's no safety driver. There's no passenger keeping an eye on things. There's no driver seat, there's no steering wheel. It's just basically a vehicle moving on its own, kind of like Jetsons vibe. And so they're doing a lot of pilot programs in Houston, Phoenix, Mountain View, and they're raising hundreds of millions of dollars. The other thing that's really interesting is they actually just secured California's first autonomous vehicle deployment permit. So they are really moving ahead and they're ahead of all of their competitors when it comes to gaining favor with regulatory agencies and really moving ahead on charging customers and receiving payments for their services.

Scott Rogowsky: Let's not forget Coco, the little delivery robots I see out here in Los Angeles that are autonomously delivering food. Have you seen these little guys?

Hayden Field: I haven't, but obviously I need to see a video or something.

Scott Rogowsky: I mean, they're small, and they just fit pretty much, I guess a takeout order, but you figure, yeah, you can scale that up. I might hop on the next Coco I see and maybe take it to Malibu.

Nora Ali: Take a ride.

Scott Rogowsky: I want to ask about, we're talking about regulations and if America loves one thing, it's liability laws and being litigious. So as AVs become more ubiquitous, many people are wondering, who's legally responsible in the event of a crash with a self-driving vehicle? How do the current liability laws in the US cover AV accidents? And do you see that evolving?

Hayden Field: Great question. So right now, all we know for sure is that the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are going to be super involved in response to those type of crashes. But we don't actually know yet who is going to be legally responsible. Waymo's vans, the robo-taxis we were talking about earlier, get into fender benders sometimes. They had, I believe, upwards of 15 crashes in the first three quarters of 2020. It really does remain to be seen. And that's another reason why I think that delivery vehicles operating autonomously are going to be a lot more fast-tracked because of the legal issues and actually Nuro, the bot we were talking about earlier, the one that they just started debuting on the streets, it has kind of a pillowish attachment on the outside in case it happens to run into anyone on the sidewalk. So they really have that front of mind right now.

Nora Ali: That's a very low-tech solution to a high-tech issue.

Scott Rogowsky: Cushion, yeah.

Nora Ali: Here's a pillow.

Scott Rogowsky: Whoopee cushions.

Nora Ali: Yeah, exactly.

Hayden Field: It really is so funny to see.

Nora Ali: Just to round things out, Hayden, I've asked many reporters this question. I always get a different answer. When do you foresee us being able to ride in fully autonomous vehicles? It's just going to be mainstream. It's going to be en masse. Is this within the next five years, 10 years, within our lifetimes? What's your best prediction?

Hayden Field: I think if it does happen, it's going to be when we are all hanging in the nursing home reminiscing about this conversation.

Scott Rogowsky: Really?

Nora Ali: Wow, okay.

Hayden Field: Because I think on a small basis, it'll happen way before then. We're already seeing certain cities in California, Arizona, pilot programs in Texas, rolling stuff like this out on a robo-taxi basis because that's also easier to regulate. So I can see those cities eventually rolling out self-driving vehicles. Again, the technology doesn't even fully exist yet, but when it does, I can see maybe certain cities saying, "Okay, we're going to have a geofence domain here. Everyone's going to have a self-driving vehicle. Cool. We're going to operate on our own here." But as far as the whole US, being able to drive fully self-driving Level 5 vehicle anywhere, in any weather condition, being able to just like start reading your book and watch Netflix and just, let it do its thing. I think it's going to be a very long time. I mean, we'll see. I mean, we wrote this in our guide. It's basically, anytime you try to predict it, things change the next month and you're like, oh no. But that's what I'm seeing right now. Just because I know the technology's going to take a while. The regulation's going to take a while, and then dealing with the different state by state, all the drama that will happen there. It'll probably take a while too.

Scott Rogowsky: So much drama.

Nora Ali: Looking forward to hanging in the nursing home with you though, Hayden.

Hayden Field: Can't wait.

Nora Ali: When we are reflecting back on this.

Hayden Field: It's going to be great. We're going to be rewatching old Disney Channel movies. It'll be awesome.

Scott Rogowsky: Listening to this podcast and wondering how wrong we could have been. Thanks so much for joining us, Hayden, here on Business Casual. Hayden Fields, an emerging tech reporter for Morning Brew.

Hayden Field: Thanks so much. Great to be here.

Nora Ali: And next up we'll be speaking to Alex Rodrigues, the CEO of self-driving truck company, Embark.

Scott Rogowsky: Alex, you, much like the other ARod, you are a child phenom, becoming one of the youngest CEOs of a publicly traded company in 2021, at the age of 26. Congratulations on that. But this all started with a self-driving golf cart you and your friends made in your parents' garage. Is that true? Can you bring us back to that summer tinkering in the garage and explain how all that ultimately led you and your co-founders to drop out of school, like so many great entrepreneurs, and join the Silicon Valley Y Combinator?

Alex Rodrigues: Maybe you have to go back even a little bit further. So I grew up in Calgary and started building robots when I was 11. Did a lot of competitions. And through that sort of learned a lot of the foundational skills. And then in summer of 2015, decided we wanted to build a self-driving golf cart. Went back to my parents' house, took their garage, and converted it into a machine shop. And a local technical college instructor, who I was friends with from robotics before, helped us pick up parts and let us go to his shop and do some of the more intensive machining we needed to do. We went on Craigslist, and we were like, "What's the cheapest golf cart we can buy?" And so we just found like an $1,800 golf cart outside the city, went and picked it up. So we spent the summer just kind of working out of the garage. And I was 19, I think, at the time.

Nora Ali: So from golf carts, then you went into Y Combinator with the intention of building self-driving shuttles for college campuses. And the idea was that's a constrained and controlled environment, but then you decided to pivot and work on software for self-driving trucks, which feels much higher stake. You're on highways. So how did that pivot happen?

Alex Rodrigues: Yeah, I think one of the insights that I brought with me from all those years of doing competition robotics was that in the competition, the team that won wasn't necessarily the one with the most resources or the one with the best designers, it was the one that did the best job of narrowing in on a specific set of tasks that they were going to be really good at. And you can't pick too few tasks, otherwise you can't win, you can't pick too many tasks, otherwise it's too complicated. And so this initial concept of running in closed communities was driven by that thesis. We said, "How can we simplify this problem?" It's a hugely complicated problem. It's one that no one's ever done before. And at the time we were a very small company, a handful of friends working on this. And so what can we do to really pick the right set of tasks? And so our initial hypothesis was maybe we can do campuses. The only problem with campus... We did it. We built the vehicle, we piloted it at around 10 universities in California. It went really well. But the key problem was that there just wasn't enough demand. It turns out that the campus shuttling student market is actually pretty small. And so we realized that maybe we had picked sort of an application that they didn't have the right demand. And then we spent some time trying to find application. We met some trucking fleets and as soon as we met the trucking fleets, it became really clear the benefits that you could have for these people and that it would be absolutely gigantic, right? Trucking $700 billion a year in the United States. And yet it was still under that thesis of a focused way to attack the problem. Although trucks are big, you're still sort of narrowing in on specific set of things because you're only driving on the highway. So you're skipping all of that dense, urban driving that is really the most challenging. And so it was a different way to cut up the problem, but it was really the same sort of objective, us trying to figure out how can we find something focused that can actually be delivered, but then also making sure that there's really people who would benefit from us doing that.

Nora Ali: And for tackling such a big industry, it sounds like you guys have been on a pretty accelerated path, going public via SPAC with Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. II in a over $5 billion deal. This is a question that I ask a lot, and there's a lot of different answers, but why did you go the SPAC route?

Alex Rodrigues: Yeah, I think for us, it was really sort of thinking about two things. When you sort of think about what are the attractive elements of a SPAC? One is, it is a faster process. And the second advantage is that it allows you to have some of the sort of advantages that you have as a private company, of being able to have investors get to know you more. And what I mean by that is because Embark is a pre-revenue company, a lot of what makes the business exciting is our technology, right? Being able to sit in the truck, being able to actually see it drive itself. And that's really hard to do at-scale, sort of when you're doing a 30-minute pitch with a public investor, which is the way an IPO process typically looks. And what the SPAC process allowed us to do was work with the Northern Genesis team, who super credible, already had a bit of a track record having done a very successful mobility SPAC going into this and have them come. They flew down, they rode in the truck, they got that experience. And then we were able to have sort of a credible third party who was a part of that process to say, "We saw the technology first hand. Here was our experience of it." I think that was really useful.

Scott Rogowsky: So we're tracking evolution. Golf carts to college shuttles. And by the way, it's the walk of shame, Alex, not the shuttle of shame. That should have clued you into maybe why that wouldn't work. But now you're doing autonomous trucking, which like you said, $700 billion industry and investment firm Wedbush is forecasting the self-driving truck market is going to attract more than $750 billion more over the next five years. Are you trucking serious? Clearly there's a demand for this tech, Alex, but what are some of the factors driving the sudden interest in this space?

Alex Rodrigues: I mentioned sort of on the technical side, why we thought that trucking was a focused application, we thought that would be important. But when you flip around and look at the business side, it really is a heck of a lot more compelling than college shuttles, it turns out. First off, it's just the size, right? People, when you're sitting in a city, you don't necessarily see how much trucks are doing. Just to put it in perspective, for a second, the trucking industry is close to 4% of US GDP. So almost 4% of the entire economy just goes to paying trucks to go places. Mind blowing numbers. At the same time, it's an industry with a real pressing need. That's been going on for a long time. This is the driver shortage. So younger people aren't excited to go into trucking because it's an industry that requires a very different lifestyle. And one that has certainly become harder and harder to hire for. And that means that you have a shortage that's demographically baked in. It's not something that you can just sort of fix. It's something where every year more truckers are retiring than are entering the industry, and that's creating a huge problem. So this is actually a problem has been going on for years, but certainly your average person has probably become much more aware of it in the last nine months as the supply-chain crisis has really started to impact whether we're able to get goods. But it's a crisis that has its roots a lot further back, where why are we not able to move all of the containers out of the ports? Because there's not enough truckers. Why are there not enough truckers? Because we're not able to hire them because of the lifestyle. And so we see this as not just something that's important in sort of a niche part of the economy, but really a fundamental linchpin of the US economy and one that right now doesn't necessarily have all the tools it needs to be able to operate at a 100%.

Nora Ali: The average listener of this podcast is not a trucker, obviously. So why does this matter to the average person? How might we experience the benefits of autonomous trucks in our everyday life, whether it's lower prices and faster shipping, or it's better for the environment? Ultimately, what are some of the things that we might see as consumers?

Alex Rodrigues: So I'd say the first thing you'll see is the impact on speed and cost of delivery. Because a self-driving truck is able to operate 24/7, you're able to get a lot more distance in a single day than you could with a person driving that truck. And so you end up being able to deliver more goods, more places, faster, cheaper, maybe you have longer shelf life on your strawberries and they're getting shipped from California to DC. And so that's, I think, one of the first ways you'll see it directly. I think the second one is safety. Pretty mind blowing number, over a million people in the last 25 years in the United States have died in automobile accidents and trucks are a big part of that. And we think that we can make self-driving trucks a lot safer because they don't get distracted. They don't get tired. And then the third one that I would point to is the sustainability benefit. So these trucks are still, at least for now, diesel trucks. However, they're able to operate a lot more fuel efficiently. They're able to operate at better speeds and they're able to avoid needing to stop or idle overnight or drive empty back to someone's home. So you're able to save a lot of fuel and make the industry more efficient.

Nora Ali: All right, let's take a very quick break. More with Alex when we come back. Alex, I want to get to the crux of the business a little bit more. So to be clear, Embark is a SaaS company that makes the software and the tech that supports autonomous trucking and not the actual hardware, the automobiles themselves. Why did you decide to focus on the software over the hardware and what does a partnership look like with a trucking company where they would end up adopting your tech?

Alex Rodrigues: So Embark, we have what we call an asset light model and that's a bit different than some of the competitors in the space. And what that really means practically is that Embark builds the software, and then we partner with some of the biggest carriers in the country who are ultimately the ones who buy and own and operate the truck. And we think that this is a really good fit. It's a good fit for both sides, right? Obviously we believe that our carriers are going to be able to have by far the most competitive offering and hugely benefit from being able to knock sometimes almost half the operating cost off what it costs to run the truck. And we're working with institutions that have spent 40-plus years figuring out how to run trucks really efficiently. And as a software company in Silicon Valley, that's really frankly, not our specialty. And when we're looking at the scale as well, we're talking about buying huge numbers of trucks and putting them out onto the road. That's something that we wouldn't be able to do nearly as quickly without the support of some of the leading fleets.

Nora Ali: Without getting too much in the weeds. What is the biggest difference between the actual tech that you're working on versus for example, Full Self-Driving that Tesla's working, on or autonomous driving for passenger vehicles?

Alex Rodrigues: I think the biggest difference is that we use something called vision map fusion, where everyone else uses something called HD maps. So those are both a little bit technical terms. To take one step sort of into what that actually means, for almost a decade of development in autonomy, the default way to do things was people would build these very, very detailed maps that would go down to the centimeter level of everything going on in the city. And then whenever you wanted to figure out where the car was, you'd look at what you had recorded from the last time you drove. You try and match it up with what you were seeing, and then you'd figure out where in that map you were located, and that's called an HD map. And one of the things that a lot of our competitors have started to struggle with is, as you try and make these maps bigger and bigger and bigger, more and more and more things are changing underneath you. And so it becomes this massive effort to keep the map up to date. And it's particularly problematic when you're operating on an interstate highway, because on an interstate highway, you don't have an alternative route if there's construction. You can't just take 25th Street instead of 24th Street and then send someone to fix the map later. It's pretty important that the map be fixed and up to date all the time. And so Embark recognized this is a pretty unique problem for self-driving trucks that operate largely on interstate highways. And what we've done is we've taken the way that everyone else does maps, where they gather the data and then they send it to humans, humans do a bunch of work, they build a new map, and they send it back. That takes a few days, maybe a week. We compress that whole process down, so it's all software and it's all done in under 40 milliseconds. So we'll look at the map. We'll look at the sensors. We'll find anything that looks different between what we expected and what's actually there, we'll make the fixes, we'll update the map, and we'll just keep driving. And so that's called vision map fusion. And it's patent pending. It's something that has been many years in the making, and it makes our system a lot more flexible than the competitors that started on the car side.

Nora Ali: And then on top of it all, we haven't even addressed the psychological hurdles, maybe, of driving next to an autonomous truck and even see issues for people who don't want to get in a rideshare that's autonomous. So do you foresee issues from the psychological and acceptance standpoint? And if so, what are you trying to do to change that narrative?

Alex Rodrigues: Yeah, I think this is something that it's really sort of our responsibility to build trust with the public. Our technology has the potential to make roads a lot safer. And so the hope is that over time when you see a driverless truck pulling up beside you, you're thinking, great, I know for sure this truck's paying attention. I know it's going to be courteous. I know that it's going to be patient. It's going to drive defensively, and it's going to not be texting, or doing any of the many things that we humans are doing on the roads all the time. And so the challenge is just to earn that trust. And I think we do that by testing on the road and making sure that it's safe with safety drivers. We do that by going through a pretty extensive program in simulation to make sure the technology works. And ultimately we prove that by working pretty closely with the regulators, and we have a pretty significant number of the states now in the United States where driverless trucks are to operate without a safety driver.

Scott Rogowsky: Well, Alex, you seem to know what you're doing here. We are wall-to-wall and tree-top tall, good buddy. But my bird dog is barking. It's time to back it down because it's time for Quizness Casual, the Business Casual quiz. It's not going to be about CB slang, but I'm going to throw a lot of it in here. What do you know about CB slang? That's a whole other podcast. Today's quiz is all about the AV industry. Alex, you're taking the wheel, but joining on the passenger side is Nora. You two can talk amongst yourselves to answer me my questions three. Can I get a 10-4?

Alex Rodrigues: 10-4, good buddy.

Scott Rogowsky: Threes and eights. Good numbers to you both. All right, here we go. Qumero numero uno. What is the internal name for Apple's self-driving car project? Great White, Iron Man, Project Titan, or Quick silver?

Nora Ali: I know the answer. Do you know the answer, Alex?

Alex Rodrigues: Yeah. It's Project Titan.

Nora Ali: Titan. Too easy, Scott.

Alex Rodrigues: Come on.

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah, too easy. They start easy. I mean, look, I assume you're going to know a lot of this stuff. Do you know when Project Titan began?

Alex Rodrigues: Ooh.

Nora Ali: I don't know.

Alex Rodrigues: It's going to be like, 2014, '15 kind of thing.

Scott Rogowsky: Nailed it. 2014.

Nora Ali: Wow.

Scott Rogowsky: And did you know Apple has the third-largest fleet of self-driving test vehicles in California, trailing only Waymo and GM?

Alex Rodrigues: I actually didn't know that.

Nora Ali: Does not surprise me though.

Scott Rogowsky: You didn't know that? You can share it on the company Slack later. All right. You're one for one. Breaker, breaker. There's a bear in the air and a fox in the hen house, but Q2's on your donkey, so let's bring that wiggle wagon into the pumpkin patch. Here we go. What percent of nights do truck drivers spend away from their homes each year? 66%, 33%, 50% or 85%?

Alex Rodrigues: I think it might be 85. People are often in away two weeks at a time, and you'll do a night or two home. That's kind of the usual schedule.

Nora Ali: Okay. It makes it more interesting if that's the right answer. So let's lock it in.

Alex Rodrigues: Let's go for it.

Nora Ali: 85%.

Scott Rogowsky: You narrowed it down to the two. It is 66%, is the answer. Truck drivers spend 66% or 240 nights away from their homes every year. That's a lot of lonely wives, but a lot of happy lot lizards, I assume. Maybe they're not happy. Well, let's put the hammer down and feed the bears. No time for pickle parks or nap traps. We're going to keep the left door closed and fly the coop! Question three, Alex, the final question. Where is the biggest truck stop in the world? Portland, Oregon; Joplin, Missouri; Walcott, Iowa; or Flagstaff, Arizona?

Alex Rodrigues: Ooh.

Nora Ali: I feel like this is the thing that you would know, Alex.

Alex Rodrigues: Yeah. I'm thinking I'm going to have to go with Flagstaff, but, yeah.

Nora Ali: There's a lot of autonomous testing in Arizona, too. So yeah, let's do it. Flagstaff it is. Locking it in.

Scott Rogowsky: Flagstaff. Well, I hate to break it to you, breaker, breaker. The biggest truck stop in the world happens to be located in Walcott, Iowa.

Nora Ali: What?

Scott Rogowsky: The Iowa 80 truck stop.

Alex Rodrigues: Wow.

Scott Rogowsky: Serving 5,000 customers a day, 900 truck parking spots.

Nora Ali: Wow.

Scott Rogowsky: They go through 55 miles of toilet paper a month.

Nora Ali: What?

Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. Lot of TP.

Alex Rodrigues: I wonder who calculated that.

Nora Ali: That's a weird thing to know. 

Scott Rogowsky: Toilet paper in mileage. That's an odd... What about kilometers? I guess, or a Canadian... You're you're a Canadian, right? Calgary? You were one and a half. I'll give you one and a half out of three, one and a half out of three. Pretty good.

Alex Rodrigues: Not the best showing, but you know...

Scott Rogowsky: Not the best showing. You definitely would've lost HQ, but I'll give you the win on Quizness Casual.

Alex Rodrigues: Nice.

Scott Rogowsky: I'm in a good mood.

Nora Ali: Yay. Congrats. We did it.

Scott Rogowsky: Final question, Alex, how many trucks do you give?

Alex Rodrigues: All the trucks, Scott.

Scott Rogowsky: All the trucks. All right. Zero trucks given. That should be the opposite. You need a good slogan for the company. Should it be zero trucks given?

Alex Rodrigues: I don't know if a safety focus company wants zero trucks given as its motto.

Nora Ali: They want to give all the trucks. Yeah. Yeah.

Scott Rogowsky: Well this is great, man.

Nora Ali: Alex, we will leave things there. Thank you so much for participating and thanks for your time today.

Alex Rodrigues: Thanks for having me. It was fun.

Scott Rogowsky: We love hearing from you, Business Casual listeners. So please hit our line. Breaker, breaker. We're working on an upcoming episode about delivery services like Gopuff, and what goes on behind the scenes to make these instant deliveries happen. And we'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Do you use Gopuff or 15 minute deliveries? Send us an email at or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod. That's B-I-Z casual pod.

Nora Ali: You can also leave us a voice memo on our website,, or give us a ring. Leave us an old fashioned voicemail. Our number is 862-295-1135. As Business Casual grows, we are excited to get to know our listeners, old and new. Drop us a line and don't forget to leave your name and where you're calling or writing from, so we can hear from you in a future episode.

Scott Rogowsky: Business Casual is fueled by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins, additional production sound design and mixing by Daniel Marcus. Alan Haburchak is the director of audio Morning Brew, and Sarah Singer's our VP of multimedia. Music in this episode from Daniel Marcus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you like what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for ear candy. And we'd love it if you give us a great rating and a review.

Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali.

Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky.

Nora Ali: Keep it business.

Scott Rogowsky: And keep on trucking.