In this three-part series brought to you by Prannoy Roy, we meet many of the actual innovators who are helping design a better world for tomorrow. This is our third and final episode of the new world being created in The Playground inside Silicon Valley in California. On this program, we look at some actual products being created, some top secret, some soon-to-be-launched and each one has something really special and mind-blowing.
Prannoy Roy Speaks To Stefan Heck, CEO, Nauto
NDTV: Stefan, thanks very much for joining us.
Stefan Heck: Great to meet you.
NDTV: I know you are slightly busy generally, because you're creating this great start-up. Just describe to us exactly what it's about, because I've heard a lot about it and it's a buzz around here. What's it all about?
Stefan Heck: Well we're building an intelligent data platform for safety data, well, for human driving as well as future autonomous driving.
NDTV: For safety?
Stefan Heck: For safety, that's right.
NDTV: And how, just few more details, what does it involve and how do you, how do you achieve that goal and how successful have you been?
Stefan Heck: So in human driving side, we've retrofitted Artificial Intelligence in sensors into commercial vehicles. So there are truck drivers, taxi drivers, ride sharing drivers, delivery vehicles. So, it's in their windshield. We look at the road and we look at the driver behaviour.
NDTV: So it's a kind of camera?
Stefan Heck: It's a kind of camera, yeah. It looks like this. Mounts on your windshield.
NDTV: Okay, it sticks like that to the windshield.
Stefan Heck: Yeah. And this sticks with the driver, so it peeks over your review mirror. So this is your mirror and then the outside looks at the road ahead of you.
NDTV: That one, that camera looks at the road ahead of you. So you're constantly looking both inside and outside.
Stefan Heck: That's right. And their computer vision is watching, to see as a risky situation emerging, the lights turn red, or a car has cut you off. And on the inside we're looking, is the driver paying attention. So, they're maybe looking at their mobile phone or maybe talking to a passenger.
Stefan Heck: Or daydreaming out of the sight of the vehicle. And we look at the combinations like that. Um, and if it's a serious situation, we give the driver an alert.
NDTV: Like a verbal alert?
Stefan Heck: Either with a tone or voice depending on how serious the situation is. And we also give feedback at the end of your trip. So you can see we calculate the driver's score. So it's from zero, if you're very risky, to one hundred if you're perfect. And I'm definitely not perfect.
NDTV: And that's the speaker.
Stefan Heck: That's the speaker. That's right. That's right.
NDTV: Okay. Wow. And how successful has it been? How important is being distracted in terms of accidents?
Stefan Heck: So, distraction is literally the top cause of accidents today. We're talking about the mis-collisions, because they're usually predictable actually. We can see the patterns that lead to them. And, if you look at the collisions on the road today, first of all they're not evenly distributed. You have fifteen percent of drivers which cause most collisions, eighty-eighty five percent...
Stefan Heck: And at the other spectrum, you have about twenty percent of the population that will go their whole life without causing any collision. They may still get rear-ended by somebody or be in a collision. But it won't be their fault.
Stefan Heck: Right.
NDTV: So, twenty percent, very careful, and fifteen percent are, what do you call them, reckless?
Stefan Heck: Either that or what you see is, early, when you first learn to drive, you tend to be worse and people who're getting into senior citizen years, seventy-eighty five years old, they also start to, because perception weakens, reaction time lightens, you tend to get worse as well. But there's just individual variation. So we're out to learn from the best drivers, that twenty percent that never causes collisions, because there's a lot to be learned about how humans behave. We make way for bicyclists, we make way for animals, we take more space if we see a driver is having trouble. All of those behaviours are really important for future autonomous cars. They have to fit into the human traffic flow. And then from the bad drivers, we learn about all the risks in areas and of course in autonomous cars.
NDTV: Huge learning from this. Real time learning in real situations.
Stefan Heck: That's right. So the whole system is designed to be a gigantic learning system. We give the driver feedback so they know. The abstract learned data is pooled, but it's completely without any personal information. Anonymous, so your privacy is protected. And there we learn how people behave at red lights, in four-way intersections, on freeways. And that's where we use the other part of our business, working with automakers to build future-safe autonomous cars. So they build the cars and we provide the intelligence software.
NDTV: So all this data you're collecting is anonymous but to the fleet owner, they can see which particular driver is better and worse.
Stefan Heck: Yeah, they can see their own drivers. But the aggregated data, across our fleets, that's anonymous.
NDTV: And about a year ago, you've raised a little bit of money, like I can't remember the amounts?
Stefan Heck: We've raised about a hundred and sixty million dollars.
NDTV: Only a hundred and sixty million, well done. That's insane, that's brilliant. That was a year ago?
Stefan Heck: A year ago. Yeah, from SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, and Grey Lark Creed Hoffman kind of liked it.
NDTV: Now, the other aspect is that it also records incidents. So if the driver feels that there's about to be an accident, there was an accident and I do want to show it wasn't my fault, I do want it recorded. Can be done?
Stefan Heck: Yes, it can be done. So we have a small button the driver has control over, they mount it in the vehicle and when they click the button, it will upload data. We see a lot of unusual events. Sometimes it's a threat by a passenger if you're driving a taxi. So we protect the driver from somebody who maybe drunk or whatever other reason. Or just an unusual event, somebody cutting them off, danger. Both inside and outside in that case, yeah. And even in the regular vans, in most commercial vehicles, it's rarely actually the commercial driver's fault. It's usually the other person and the traffic. And so we protect the commercial drivers from false accusations, if there is a liability, when it wasn't really their fault.
NDTV: So, what I've learnt here is that everybody starts off with a plan and then there are always things that don't go exactly as expected, you always have to, what they call 'pivot'. So what did you find the difficulties and how did you pivot and get over them?
Stefan Heck: Yeah, well, we started actually with mobile phones and we found that the mobile phones would overheat if you drive for extended periods of time. So, for short commute,
twenty minutes, mobile phone is perfectly fine. But if you're
a professional driver and you're driving eight-twelve hours a day, you need a dedicated device. So that was our first pivot.
Stefan Heck: Second one is, we originally planned to just be in the US and then go to Europe. We actually found that Japan is very excited about dash cameras and about safety. So we made Japan our second geography. And we grow from there. And then we found that a lot of people who already had telematics devices want to upgrade into visual telematics. To be able to have computer vision as well and see the safety scenarios. So originally we thought that some of those telematics companies might be competitors, but actually they've turned into great partners. And we're deploying together and they're tracking fuel, engine performance and we're tracking the safety situation.
NDTV: So you went from here to Japan, when's India coming on your radar?
Stefan Heck: Eventually, yes. We would love to do India one day. We're not ready yet. India takes more work.
NDTV: Right, generally true. Well that's wonderful and it's just a great idea and many, many congratulations, and you've had a very strong tech background right, that's why you did this. What did you do at college?
Stefan Heck: Yeah, so I did a PhD in Philosophy. Very deep tech background.
NDTV: Perfect, wonderful and inspiring. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Prannoy Roy Speaks To Jory Bell, Investor, Playground Global
NDTV: Jory, thank you very much for joining us today.
Jory Bell: Oh, quite my pleasure.
NDTV: You know, this is just a dream place for youngsters like you. So, what is somebody who wants to get in here, so what are you looking at and what kind of investments do you make?
Jory Bell: Well, I mean, first point is investing in people. So founders who have a big vision and we think can take that vision, can build a long, the long haul that it's going to take to make a successful company.
NDTV: And all the mistakes and ups and downs?
Jory Bell: Yes, it's all, I mean, whatever the plan is that they're coming with, there's going to be challenges they haven't foreseen.
NDTV: Always, is it?
Jory Bell: Always, like instantaneously. The start-up world is constantly changing, like many companies pivot from their initial idea to something hopefully better or maybe just different. So I think, so first the people.
NDTV: So first, I love that. The first is you look at the people involved.
Jory Bell: Yes.
NDTV: Okay. And this, sorry, you look for passion and an idea?
Jory Bell: You look for passion, you look for honesty, and you look for how they interact with their team and the people around them. I mean a founder is going to spend most of their time raising money and hiring people as they grow, right, and then holding the vision of the company, so that everyone else is working in the right direction. So...
NDTV: So, okay, that's what you look for. Right, right. Leadership, passion, idea, everything. Okay that's one. And then
Jory Bell: And then frequently, well always, we're looking for a really big vision, which usually also means solving a big problem. That's, kind of, has two parts to it, I think. One part is that those are where the big financial opportunities are, but also where the big changes can be made for society and for future generations. So, we're shepherding a lot of resources and kind of placing bets on technologies and companies and no one technology is inevitable. And so it's kind of both a privilege and a responsibility to kind of help decide, kind of, what are the directions we think technology should be moving into and to put resources in those directions.
NDTV: So, you're saying that you're looking at ideas or projects that have some social impact, is that what you saying? The change you said, that make major changes in the world?
Jory Bell: Yeah, well most of the big businesses will make major changes in the world, right. You look at Facebook, you look at Uber, you look at Google, you look at Apple.
NDTV: Changing our lives, yes, wonderful.
Jory Bell: So, if it's big a business opportunity, it's going to make a big change. So, we have the opportunity to help effect that change. So we're looking for the kind of those big ideas and the entrepreneurs who're going to be able to realise them.
NDTV: Right. Give us some examples of the kind of investments you are making that will have, or some that have already fructified.
Jory Bell: So we're a little over three years old. So the life cycle of a venture, an investment fund, is around ten years typically, ten or twelve years, which is good, because it's taking longer for companies to exit. There's a lot more money available right now, so companies, that used to go public quite early, now can continue to raise private money, whether it's, you know, from huge funds, the SoftBank Vision Fund, or just venture capital writing bigger cheques and private equity. So people are staying private longer.
NDTV: Oh that's very interesting, that's very interesting that capital is not in as short as supply as it used to be.
Jory Bell: Oh no, yeah, definitely not. I mean by stage it varies over time. But, yeah.
NDTV: Yes, yes, yes. So would you say there's a kind of reversal between the capital and talent? The talent is in short supply now?
Jory Bell: So definitely. So that's an interesting question. I feel, like we see so much talent come through here that it's hard for me to feel like talent is in short supply.
NDTV: I know.
Jory Bell: I think the combination of the right talent, the right ideas, putting that all together. And I think, specially, in certain areas of the country like Silicon Valley, one of the things that make me come here is that, you have that concentration of ideas and people and capital and it's just kind of a, I think there are those concentrations that make a big difference. That happens in a lot of industries. Like if you're in the movie industry, it happens in Los Angeles. If you're in the banking industry, New York or London. I think for the technology industry, this is one of the areas where you have everything in one place. So you don't feel about a big lack. There's a little bit of a sense of competition for talent, which is interesting for start-ups, because, you know, companies like, you know, Google, Facebook or Apple, are paying such huge amounts of money for talent. Key disciplines like machine learning scientists or few people studying AI, can just make incredible sums of money working for these large companies. And so how do you convince them, when the bar is much higher for a big idea? Because they have to be really convinced that this is going to be the next Google, or the next Facebook to be a part of it and give up, you know, a million dollar salary, at you know, one of these large companies.
NDTV: Okay, so give me some examples where you're actually investing right now. I mean, give us some projects. I mean, not confidential.
Jory Bell: I think we're doing a lot of investing in new computer platforms, automation and robotics and Artificial Intelligence and also next generation manufacturing. And usually, the companies that we find interesting have an inner section of more than one of those categories. So, for example, we recently invested in a company called Relativity Space, that was some young engineers that came out of SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and started a new rocket company. But it's not just another rocket company, but also applying 3D metal printing technologies to be able to print the entire rocket, in order to be able to increase the pace of production, increase the quality.
NDTV: Safety. Wow. So, it's safer. So you know, people are invested in something that is going to use 3D printing to print a rocket?
Jory Bell: So everyone right now is using 3D printing to print major components of the rocket, engines and a lot of components. We actually also have an investment in a company that just makes those printers, for the highest end aerospace and medical printing of metal of titanium and stainless steel. And this company is using those for the small parts and then using huge industrial robots, with laser welding, to make structures that are a full-scale rocket. The whole tank structure, everything that you see, printed with these huge robot arms.
NDTV: I'd love to; I think we have a short video of that.
Jory Bell: Okay, great. It's really something to see.
NDTV: I just like, all about thinking big. That's like mind-blowing. And you have, is it called Cassie?
Jory Bell: Cassie, oh yes, Agility Robotics. So, our founders and Andy especially has a lot of experience in the robotics industry, especially with legged robotics. So you know, everyone has seen the Boston Dynamics robots and we have here a couple of... like Schaft is a Japanese robot company that was one of the first companies making the kind of amazing walking robots.
NDTV: Those are the feet.
Jory Bell: Those are the feet there and it's kind of hanging right now, and all of these, they are amazing, but they are very energy intensive. And so some folks at university, up in Oregon, developed an extremely energy efficient way, kind of mimicking how animals and birds and people use passive dynamics to store energy when they don't need to use it, when they need to go. So for operating for fifteen minutes on a battery, the walking robots that they're developing, can go for hours at a time. And part of what's exciting about walking robots is that so much of the world is already built out for humans, like right over there behind us there's this stairway, and if you need to do last-mile delivery, you need to deliver something to an old person living up on a second storey walk-up, then that's not going to be a rolling robot or a drone. That's going to have to have legs like humans, because the environment is built for humans.
NDTV: Most of it until that changes, you really need, for many decades. Human-like robots, wow.
Jory Bell: And actually I think, hopefully, the environment will be continued to be built for humans and not be built for robots. So, I think, the robots should adapt to the human environment, we shouldn't have to adapt our environment to the robots.
NDTV: Quite right. So you take an idea, you're impressed by the team, the founder, and you take it right to market? You take to raising funds? You keep training them, you have got about fifty people to train them here, I believe.
Jory Bell: So we do a few different things. So we invest
money directly. We have our fifty-person team, which is full stack engineering and all the folks we work with, they're super, super skilled. They have worked at large companies, they have worked at small companies, all of them have worked at both. So they both understand that you need to be flexible. And there's lots of challenges and resource constraints when you're in a start-up, but you also need to put the foundation of the right process and the right discipline, because when you're a big company, all of that is really important, because you know, it's not just a few guys in a garage anymore. So our team can help them through that path and so many transitions, when you're in a start-up, you don't expect. It's like, very different. You know, two founders, two dozen people to fifty people to a hundred people to thousands, each of those transitions is just a very, very different set of challenges. The expectations will change; frequently just going up in various areas and, the kind of founders that we want are people, who we think are going to take that company all the way. They may not. They may have the self-awareness at some point to say, well actually I'm really good at, you know, up to a thousand people and now you know, you should get someone who has experience taking a company public, but we usually really want to believe and do believe that that person has that capability, they're an athlete in that way that they can take it the whole way.
NDTV: Wow. So is it a sprint or a marathon?
Jory Bell: Well it's both, it's both.
NDTV: Sprinting the same distance is a marathon.
Jory Bell: So you can't sprint the whole time. Right, so...
NDTV: Who's he, when he's at home?
Jory Bell: Well this is actually, this is Andy's, who was a Kyoto artist who makes robots, sculptures out of trash.
NDTV: Fantastic. And this is more from my generation. Okay, so that's absolutely amazing. You like to see the same people all the way. They should have the capability, but what they don't, it's their life choice.
Jory Bell: Yes, yeah. And so, what you were just asking that I was mumbling about, oh the sprint versus marathon. So I think that it's definitely a marathon and one of the keys is to understand when it is worthwhile to sprint. If you have, you now, a critical deadline to get something for, you know, a lot of times it's a very simple deadline, a trade show, a fundraising activity, a customer who needs something by a certain day. Then it turns into a sprint and if everyone understands that and works together and maybe pulls all-nighters. But most of the time it's just about consistent hard work over a number of years. I mean it takes; it is the exception to have a company that, oh, it's just a year or two and suddenly it's a huge thing. A lot of times it's, you know, five years, ten years, even more that a company can take.
NDTV: Tell me something about how the Playground would be relevant to a developing country like India. What kind of technologies you're working on? I just heard about, from Peter,
about agriculture, if you're getting great food at a lower price, it could eliminate hunger to some extent, well a large extent.
Jory Bell: Yes, so food is definitely one of the areas I'm very interested in. So currently we're looking at a lot of indoor farming and vertical farming, where you move the farming close to cities and eliminate both the large land requirements and also the transportation requirements. So that's one thing I'm interested in. I mean I'm sure our new compute platforms, like our optical computing company and our quantum computing company, can be used to make new drugs for healthcare, and to make, you know, safer pesticides for agriculture, to make new materials that have strength or other attributes.
NDTV: These are very relevant for us because we have the worst pesticides, which are the most dangerous, cancerous. And I guess that the other area is that, you value engineers a lot. India produces the most engineers, more than United States does. So, there'll be a demand for engineers?
Jory Bell: Oh definitely. I mean, and if you look at our, a lot of our most cutting-edge companies, the majority of the engineers may have come from, right now or originally, from another company, because United States is a nation of immigrants.
NDTV: Another company or another country? Another country I'm sure.
Jory Bell: Another country, yeah. There's a bit of an acceleration, I think, in companies being founded by PhDs in the hard sciences. Right. So what used to be was more just Computer Science or Electrical Engineering. Now there's an emergence in Biotech, so you know people who may have a Biology or Genetics PhD are starting a company. Folks with Material Science PhD are starting a company. So I think there's been an acceleration from where it used to be. Like I had the perception when I was young that getting a PhD was mostly about being an academic. And then it was sort of like, well maybe when you're a high-end person in a big company. Now PhD is maybe one of the more likely paths to become an entrepreneur. Then it used to be not much of a connection or requirement in every hard science to...
NDTV: So I did well getting a PhD then?
Jory Bell: Definitely.
NDTV: Maybe years later, it'll make sense. A lot of people say you're just a Bengali academic, that you wanted those letters, but now it's practical. So a lot of PhDs out there should be happy.
Jory Bell: More and more founding PhDs we see. Not just the CTOs, but the CEOs as well.
NDTV: Wow. That's fascinating. God bless you for the work you're doing. Thank you for changing the world and good luck.
Jory Bell: Thank you so much.