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Ep. 25: Gerardo Interiano of Aurora

Summer of 50 PGH Tech Stories

Gerardo Interiano, Head of Government Relations at Aurora, talks about the company's commitment to the Pittsburgh community and bridging the digital divide. He also details Aurora up and down. Aurora building a company and a product that will make people’s lives safer, easier, and more efficient by moving them and their goods through the world. Summer of 50 PGH Tech Stories is powered by Comcast!!




Everybody This is Jonathan Kersting with the Pittsburgh Technology Council, tech vibe radio hanging out with Comcast bringing you our Summer of 50 Pittsburgh Tech Stories. And I'm going to say today might be one of our highlights stories, because if anything, the guy I'm talking to today, the company he represents is actually the inspiration for what we're doing right now. It's kind of a long, crazy story, but it's a good one. But before we get into it, or just encourage everybody to draw it out, and Gerardo Interiana from Aurora who has one of the coolest t shirts on right now I'm jealous. It's like, it looks like a T shirt. Like it's like it should say like Wisp on somewhere. Isn't that cool? 70s like going rad, right? I'm jealous. And I'm still throwing out there. I'm open any sort of T shirt trades? I do. Yeah.

Well, now that I know that this is the one that you like, let me see if I can track one of these down,

please. And like I said hipster medium for me is the perfect size.

All right, which means a large for a middle age man, so yeah, very, very cool. And I'm wearing my alpha lab shirt because for all the good Pittsburgh tech stuff going on, and I want to have an Aurora shirt, because I'm one of your biggest fans because of the work that you guys do, not just on the technical side of things, or no, but really from what you're doing within the city. And this gets back to my story, right? So I'll be quick because I'm, this is gonna tee you up. I'm excited. So I remember I was raised is the whole code pandemic broke out. We got a call from neighborhood allies asked me to put a couple tweets and some Facebook post up about some Dell chargers. We said, Sure, put the post up. I'm like a day or two later, you contacted us here the tech Council, you're like, I want to help. And I was like, cool. What did we do? You got some chargers? And you're like, No, we got some money. I'm like, What are you talking about? You're like, yeah, a glorious step up to $25,000. And that just blew our mind through like, oh my god be like, wait, it can be better. We're gonna leverage this. We kind of created this beyond the laptops initiative, which has raised I think over $400,000 so it's right. Oh, yeah. Like honestly, I can say this is one of the highlights of my career in tech. counsel was having this happen. So I'll leave it at that. And base based on this, we're raising money for the same organization with Comcast. So we're asking anybody who's watching this over to be on laptops or give a small donation, five bucks, 10 bucks, any amount is making a difference, because we all got to chip in however we can. Because all students are going back to school in order to compute new computers, good computers, on the network, so they can learn and part of the world. So leave it at that.

Now, when we look, we can't say enough good things about the work that the Pittsburgh Technology Council and neighborhood allies and all the different partners that were there, were able to step up from, you know, the foundations to the corporations to individuals. I mean, this truly has been a community effort, which I think was really important to us that our world, right, like we didn't want this to just be about us or about the self driving car industry. But we really felt that this was an opportunity for the community to come together and address a gap that is very much related to the work that we do every day, right? Like nobody under stands the importance of bridging the digital divide more than the technology community who relies on the same resources that these kids lack. So for us to be able to come in and work with so many other great organizations here in the community, and be able to make a difference and see the incredible success of that program and know that come August, as these kids are going back to school, they're going to have that leg up, right, they're going to have that hand up.

And that is going to make a difference in those kids lives. Like there's, there are a few things that can make us feel better than to be able to have an impact on those kids lives new something has happened and just the way you brought the community together around that, to me just blew my mind and I just say that's one of my proudest moments, the tech Council in our tech community here in Pittsburgh because I'm like, we were thinking Oh, like get some chargers some kids that you came in with 25 K and that blew our minds and then it just escalated, you just actually couldn't believe it was happening.

It goes to show you we've been Tech homies come here to Pittsburgh. The good ones like Aurora are here to be like Roxy part of this community, we're here to do something really good. We're helping, we're solving tough problems. We're trying to be part of the community too. And that is just can't put enough words behind that. So I think that's something that's so specific to Pittsburgh, though, right? Like we hear about so many other tech communities where there's the competition and, and they don't collaborate as much as they do in other communities. And I think the thing that excites me about having such a strong presence here in Pittsburgh, is that the tech community wants to work together and we want to solve problems together. I mean, certainly the self driving space, right? We work with all sorts of different partners when we work with government, to showcase the value that this technology and the value that the industry has to the broader city. But that's not something that we want to do alone as, right like we want others to come along with us. And it's an opportunity for us to work with some of the same community partners that came in on beyond the laptops are the ones that are talking about, hey, look, this is something that is important to the city. So let's not leave adjust up to the subscribers. Companies Well, let's find a way for all of us to work together. And I think that that's so cool that Pittsburgh does that. Absolutely. I know one of the things that kind of I think was inspired by what you guys did was there were some local staffing companies IT staffing companies that wanted to make a difference. And they raised $75,000 for the food bank, which That's awesome. Pretty cool. So you're seeing these things happen. I'd say, Man, you know, for as awful as the situation's been. There's been some pretty crowded rays of light. And Aurora has been leading that and I think it's cool. And I know that like so you're new to Pittsburgh, and you came here as head of government relations for Aurora and you came in from Austin of all places. Yeah. Tell me that you really dig in Pittsburgh, and I'm happy to hear that. So what's it been like so far? Coming to Pittsburgh and being part of Aurora?

It look, it's been an incredible experience. In fact, it'll be a year next week. Really? Yes, we've been a year now and we loved so long as you continue to have these beautiful mild winters. Like the one that we did. We are going to be happy as a clam. Right now, you know, look back at my friends back in Texas dealing with triple digit days every other day and the weather here has been absolutely beautiful. So far, so good. But yeah, look, we love the community. It's been an incredibly welcoming community from a, you know, from a corporate perspective, from an independent personal perspective. We think that Pittsburgh is a great place to raise a family and our kids are enjoying it. My wife enjoys it. There's so many incredible things to do here, from the museums to the trails to the parks. So honestly, it's a big part of the reason why Aurora is committed to staying here to continue to grow here. And even during COVID, right, like we've continued to hire, like we have not slowed down. I mean, when I was hired a little bit over a year ago, there were 250 employees, like fine, just we're up to over 500 a year we've doubled. Wow. Oh my god. So that that's exciting, right. It's exciting to see The growth of the company and the continued commitment to the community and to here in Pittsburgh that's like every day there's a new person story.

It's a lot of growth but it's awesome.

Yeah, in Pittsburgh and I just think that's that's so amazing and you've been expanding obviously. I mean, you made some really cool headlines last week with with the focus you guys can be putting on 18 wheelers I guess for lack of a better Yeah, yeah, let's keep Cody's there and new office in Texas and Dallas and everything like that, which is great. But like he still got his Burg HQ. We Pittsburgh will always be so we very much consider ourselves a dual headquartered company. And Pittsburgh is key to the founding. It's key to several of our founders, right. We've been here from the very beginning and that's never going to change.

Absolutely. I mean, I remember when you guys first opened your doors here and you can just you can use all these self driving companies were opening and moving to Pittsburgh and it was like you just knew something cool to happen and now it's like it's like really Pittsburgh is I think actually being branded now as the center of self Driving technology is really what it boils.

It's absolutely one of the epicenters, right? Like there's a reason why governments from across the country, state and local governments are calling the state of Pennsylvania or calling the city of Pittsburgh to understand like, what is it that the city and the state are doing to work so closely with industry? In fact, later today, one of our team members is presenting with penn.on, a conference to talk about what that private public partnership looks like. Cool, right. It's really important for us to be able to have those relationships in our industry. And that's something that's going to be the same no matter what community you're in. And Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania are leading on that front. So to be able to work with the state and with the city and have that relationship that works and that allows for this technology to be tested and to be deployed here in Pittsburgh. It's it's certainly putting putting the city on the map.

Very much so, so exciting. Let's talk a little bit more about Aurora. It was pretty cool. We had you on our business as usual webcast last week, and I got to host it it was kind of fun like Audrey was like stranded to be at the air. Put at a meeting was like I can't make it just like john who take over I'm like, in I know exactly what questions to ask it's going to be good. And the thing I was excited about that webcast was you really be able to explain what Aurora does because it's it's more than just, you know, autonomous cars we've all seen your cars with with your stuff on top, and they're going through. I get proud when I see you again, and it's happening in Pittsburgh, but then it but there's more to that. Can you give tell us really about all things Aurora does? Because it's about making transportation safe? And it goes?

Sure. Yeah. So I mean, I think where we start is the mission of the company, right? So the mission of Aurora is to deliver the benefits of self driving technology safely, quickly and broadly. And there's four words that we talked about there. So the first word is benefits, right? Like we believe that we don't want to be just another technology company. And we think that the benefits of this technology are really transformative across so many different parts of our lives. And so we want to make sure that everybody has access to those benefits. And then the three adverts you have safely quickly, broadly and they're there for very specific reasons and in a very specific order. First and foremost, is all about safety. Right? Like, if it's up to me, right? Anytime that somebody thinks about a self driving car company that's doing this in a safe and cautious way, I want them to think about Aurora. I want them to think that we are doing it in the most responsible way possible, and that we're thinking about the safety of the users have those on the streets of other drivers of bicyclists, motorcycles, right? Like anybody that is interacting with our cars, I want them to feel safe and to trust our technology. And that's something that's very important to our founders and to the company, from from the perspective of doing this quickly. So in the United States right now, 40,000 people lose their lives on our roads every single year. So for a lot of freaking people, man, a lot of people solely type one. Yeah, and you guys can impact that tremendously, because I bet you mostly driver error. It's a lot of human error, right? Like there's a lot of human error. That's the reason why these accidents happen. So, from our perspective, anything worth doing is worth doing quickly and as soon as we are ready to deploy this technology at scale. We want to be able to do that because we're literally going to be saving people's lives. And we firmly believe that this is what this technology is going to do. And then the last component is broadly and we talked about broadly in two different ways. Okay, the first one from a business perspective is that we're platform agnostic. Right. So to your point about all the different work that we're now doing in trucking, it's not just about moving the movement of people, but it's also about the movement of goods. It's not just about limiting ourselves to a minivan or an SUV or a class eight truck or light duty commercial truck, right. It's about the entire transportation ecosystem, and how this technology can be deployed at scale, whether it's through trucking or the movement of people or buses, or, you know, anything that is on our roads, right, anything that's on the highways or the public roads, we believe that this technology can be deployed on any one of those different platforms. The other way that we think about broadly is that for us, it's important that this is accessible to all are like we don't want this technology to just be used by a limited number of people but we want anybody who would benefit from, from self driving technology to have access to it? So we think about, you know, a somebody who has a disability that relies on family or friends to get to work, and how how, how much of a stress that must be on their life and the lives of those around them. If we can give them that mobility back, what what would that mean to that person, we think similarly about the senior citizen who loses their mobility, the older that they get, and what that would mean for them to be able to still be in touch with their family and still go, go to dinner and pick up their laundry right to be able to do things that I think most of us take advantage. We just take advantage of it. And then we also think about, you know, the single parent who have to take three different bus routes to get to work and takes them two hours. And with this technology, maybe they can get there in 30 minutes. And we can give them an hour and a half back with their family like we we truly believe that this technology is transformative to so many people and we want to make sure that it's accessible to all of them. So to your comment earlier like, yes, we think about the entire ecosystem and the way that Aurora can can be the one that powers all of it. Right? So it's not just ride sharing, but it's also trucking. It's also transit. It's, it's the movement of people and the movement of goods. It's truly working through that entire ecosystem.

And we're always moving something somewhere. So you're absolutely everywhere. As far as that is. No, it's so true. That's why I'm glad you're able to explain that to us again. Because I think that's so important. I think that's so differentiating between Aurora and some of the other self driving car, car outfits, you know, around the world, as far as it's sure. At the end of the day, there's lots of competition out there, which is why you said quickly, and you tell us about like, like, like what that means to have this type of competition. I know you're very friendly and you're very, very cooperative with but yeah, at the same time, it's like you're trying to get to market first and get this stuff. No, no ready and going. What's it What's it like knowing that like there's kind of a clock ticking on this. There's lots of smart minds around the world working On this, and totally so. So I mean, look, I think from our perspective, what we've said is we're not going to deploy this technology, we're not going to remove the human driver from the vehicle until we believe that it's safe. Right? Like, yes, we talked about quickly, but we first are going to talk about safely, right. And until we believe that this technology is safer than a human driver, we're not looking to write 100%. And so what we're doing is laying the foundation to be able to do it and to be able to scale quickly, as soon as we can. But in order to do so, there are certainly going to be and you can see my son that's joining, look right now, we're getting an interview. But we're certainly focused and and trying to figure out all the different ways and all the different partners that we can work with, to be able to get this this technology out to market as soon as possible. And, you know, for us, part of quickly means we focus on what we know best. Right? And we believe that our engineers and the technology team that we have in place are truly best in class. When it comes to the building this technology, it's why we have, you know, our three founders right Chris Urmson, who went to lead way mo before he came before he started Aurora as our CEO, Drew bagno, who's a chief technology officer was with Uber beforehand and helped lead ATG unit and Sterling Anderson who used to lead Tesla's autopilot and model that's crazy, like the superheroes. Like it's really good at what they do, right? building this technology. Likewise, we're looking for the partners that are really good at logistics and transportation fleet management and all of you know an auto manufacturers right like they've been building cars for 100 years. So let's go leverage these other organizations that are best in class and let's partner together so that we can deploy this technology faster and quickly but at the same time, always focus on safety.

It's just so cool like I just a smile on my face. When I when I learned about this and I hear you describe me because I'm just like, this is literally the future in Pittsburgh playing a major drone in Aurora, as you know, doing its its whole thing around it, it just I just think it's so awesome. And I'm gonna switch gears just a little bit I'm just add more more about news last week because you mentioned before, obviously you guys are technology agnostic and you're always bringing on the latest and best technologies you can. It's a lighter company that you guys picked up with your bandolero of an engineering and technology solutions. Tell us more about that and what that means. And and I think it's so cool that you're focusing around the trucking industry because I mean, a lot. I mean, I think people often forget how huge the trucking industry isn't everything we consume as touched a truck, I think for the most part at one point or another totally trailer. Right.

And I think a brilliance of dollars, right? Like $1, right? It's a massive industry. You mean you think about the companies today that are advertising companies, right? Like I think the advertising industry is in the hundreds of billions of dollars, right? Yet some of the biggest companies in the world today are The ones that are dependent on that advertising industry, right, then you think about trucking, and it's in the trillions of dollars. And it's a massive industry. So it's a huge opportunity to be able to make a difference there. And to make those systems more efficient.

And what's cool is is Pittsburgh's kind of becoming this hub around that. So there I mean, there's companies like local nations, I'm sure you're very, very well aware of taking tractor trailers, and they actually actually convoy each other to save time increased fuel efficiency, you think of companies like I delegate that are all around the logistics, everything like that. So it's kind of neat to see that there's like this little sub cluster of companies that are kind of bringing solutions around that. But I'm just curious to learn more about this advanced LIDAR and everything that's gone down in Texas and how you're going to deploy that to sort of solving problems, you know, within the trucking industry and bring some autonomous technology there.

Sure. So last summer, we acquired a LIDAR company out of Bozeman, Montana. So they that we now we have a Bozeman office, which is a pretty awesome place to go hasn't been there yet. in Bozeman. We pretty soon had

Yeah. Bozeman is pretty often hiring I cannot complain having to go to visit the Bozeman office is not you won't find too many people complain about that. Is that Sky Country at that point like, yeah, Logan, right. Yeah, it's I think it's called the Big Sky airport. In fact, don't don't quote me on that.

So we acquire this technology that's going to be that's going to allow us to be able to see things at a further distance. And the key thing that we'll be able to do there is it will be able to see whether an object to be able to understand faster whether an object is moving towards us or away from us and the velocity that that object is going. So for example, if you're going on a highway, and you see an object that is 300 meters away, and you're going at 70 miles an hour, you want to know very quickly, is that object moving away or towards us, and what is the velocity of that object? So by having this LIDAR technology that we acquired incorporated into our into our entire fleet, we'll be able to make those decisions and make the road safer. Right. So now that we have this Incorporated, we announced a few weeks ago that we're going to be doing some testing in Texas. So we announced our presence in the Dallas Fort Worth area where we're going to be sending a couple Pacific as down there in the coming weeks. In fact, I think they're already done in the US to do some some testing down there. And by the end of the year, we'll have one of our trucks that will be outfitted with the slider technology. Oh, that's cool. I want to see pictures. And we hear about the results as it starts. Yeah. I'll send you I'll send you the blog post because, you know, we get to have our own Optimus Prime, which is kind of fun.

Yeah. I can't think of anything more fun than that. Actually. That's pretty cool. It's pretty cool. I guess to kind of like why this whole thing of us wanting to go back to where we started a little bit. The fact that you're working on this kick ass technology, and you're opening offices around the world but you're coming to Pittsburgh, I think is like like barnone as far as that goes. I do see you're continuing to integrate into Pittsburgh and continuing to make that difference, especially with things around the digital divide.

Yeah, I mean, you know, One of the organizations that we've worked with since before I even started is, oh my gosh, girls of steel. I simply love segways. And that's one of the learning that young girls all excited about technology, totally golden stuff. That's the best. Well, and I think that that's really important, right? It's about inspiring that next generation of engineers. And for us, it's thinking about, like you are the future that we want to hire. Right, right. And we want to get you guys excited about all the possibilities if you go and choose computer science, if you choose engineering, and and looking for organizations that are going to be those partners for us in the future so that we can continue to get that next generation of engineers excited about coming to work for companies like Aurora. And I think that's something that all of us in the industry have to focus in order to have a more diverse workforce, right. Like one of the things we talked about from a diversity perspective at Aurora is we want those working on our products to reflect the users. And in order to do so we need to go out and find that talent and build that talent. I think that's one of the things that really excites us. To be able to work with organizations like girls of steel, that's so cool. I'm just curious, how do you balance that long term outlook with the short term like we do the best engineers now, same time you're looking way out to I'm pretty I'm always impressed when a company has the chops, and they have the bandwidth to do that.

I think it's all of the above, right? Like, you can't just put all your eggs in one basket. And I think for us, it's thinking about, like, what are our immediate needs, but also have the long term planning to understand, hey, we also have to continue to build this pipeline today. And I think, you know, we're having worked with girls of steel, they they are so inspiring and to hear the stories and the cool things that these girls are doing here in Pittsburgh. I mean, there's a reason why folks from you know, all over the country have focused on this model that came out of Carnegie Mellon with girls of steel because it works and these girls are getting excited about pursuing these careers and that's really important to us in the future.

Perfect stuff. I suppose a good time to talk to you. I could go on for hours. I got to keep this thing to half an hour. I was like yelling at Somewhere I don't know but bro interio from Aurora you guys are making Pittsburgh proud 100% this is what it's all about. So glad to take the time to talk with you today.

No likewise really appreciate you having us and Thanks for always being a great partner to us.

We're trying our best numbers trying to live in your shadow a little bit.

Good stuff

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