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Fear & Greed, Fear and Greed

There’s been a lot of hype around self-driving vehicles, along with the many challenges in bringing them to market. But one Australian company has approached the task from a different perspective – part of a truly global effort to change the automotive industry.

Julian Broadbent, founder and CEO of Applied EV (and former General Motors executive) explains why it won’t be a slam dunk arrival – but we will get there.

Find out more: https://fearandgreed.com.au

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Sean Aylmer: Welcome to the Fear & Greed Daily Interview. I’m Sean Aylmer.

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Sean Aylmer: I reckon this could be one of the most futuristic

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Sean Aylmer: interviews we have ever done on this podcast. And it’s

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Sean Aylmer: not just talking about where we’re going, it’s about a

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Sean Aylmer: company that’s already doing remarkable things with technology. While electric

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Sean Aylmer: vehicles are booming, one part of the industry still seems

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Sean Aylmer: a little problematic. The promise of driverless, autonomous vehicles. We’re

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Sean Aylmer: a long way from having true self-driving cars. But Australian company,

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Sean Aylmer: Applied EV, is coming at it from a different perspective.

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Sean Aylmer: Instead of trying to get driverless cars delivering passengers, they’re

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Sean Aylmer: focusing on self-driving vehicles that do dangerous, dirty, or dull jobs.

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Sean Aylmer: Not quite as glamorous, but pretty amazing. Julian Broadbent is

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Sean Aylmer: the founder and CEO of Applied EV. Julian, welcome to Fear & Greed.

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Julian Broadbent: Great to be here, Sean. Thank you for the very

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Julian Broadbent: positive introduction. Loved it.

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Sean Aylmer: Julian, you worked for General Motors in Detroit and Melbourne

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Sean Aylmer: for nearly 20 years. Much of your role during that

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Sean Aylmer: period was identifying trends. At what point did it click

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Sean Aylmer: with you that EVs are the future?

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Julian Broadbent: The tipping point was really when GM in particular, and

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Julian Broadbent: this was the same for any automaker really, General Motors

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Julian Broadbent: is just my company that I worked with, but every OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer)

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Julian Broadbent: was starting to celebrate 100-year birthdays. There’s probably been a

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Julian Broadbent: plethora of them, and what that implies is the process

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Julian Broadbent: of building a particular product is approaching full optimisation in

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Julian Broadbent: terms of how things are built and how they’re done. So,

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Julian Broadbent: what was very interesting was the advent of technology companies

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Julian Broadbent: in a completely different lane, starting to embrace themes like,

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Julian Broadbent: “Software eats the world.” A great Marc Andreessen comment. Starting

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Julian Broadbent: to see technology emerging in other industries, which weren’t just software,

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Julian Broadbent: in mining industries, some beginnings around technology and self- driving vehicles,

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Julian Broadbent: et cetera. So, if you imagine that you’re sitting inside

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Julian Broadbent: a giant OEM … And there was lots of people doing this,

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Julian Broadbent: of course, I wasn’t the only one. Looking out the

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Julian Broadbent: window it was like, “Wow, is it actually possible that

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Julian Broadbent: Windows could actually drive a vehicle?” Because it was a

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Julian Broadbent: bit of a joke, right? In the late ’90s when

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Julian Broadbent: we had Office or Microsoft Windows, or it could have

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Julian Broadbent: been a Mac as well, the system would crash. You’d

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Julian Broadbent: get a blue screen and Microsoft would say, “Sorry.” So,

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Julian Broadbent: the whole idea of Windows running a vehicle was quite unfathomable.

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Julian Broadbent: And I became intrigued with some of the movements around

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Julian Broadbent: Google X at the time, it wasn’t even Waymo, and we

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Julian Broadbent: began some programs where we were shipping some of the

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Julian Broadbent: very first electric vehicles in GM to the Mountain View

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Julian Broadbent: campus of Google, to do a thing called ride sharing.

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Julian Broadbent: They called it ride sharing. We’d never heard of that.

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Julian Broadbent: Which was really just like a tap and go, you

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Julian Broadbent: could get a vehicle whenever you want, and you just

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Julian Broadbent: left it parked a bit like what we would see

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Julian Broadbent: e-bikes or e- scooters do today. This was just on

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Julian Broadbent: the Google campus. So, it felt that there was this

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Julian Broadbent: big shift, there was this big shift in technology. It

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Julian Broadbent: was only a matter of time before the incumbent automakers

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Julian Broadbent: were going to be threatened. And then, I guess, the

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Julian Broadbent: punchline that we’re all very well aware of now is that

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Julian Broadbent: a South African- born American decided that he would do

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Julian Broadbent: an electric car for a market that didn’t exist, according

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Julian Broadbent: to the OEMs. And of course, the market did exist. So,

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Julian Broadbent: at this point of time, I just found this really

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Julian Broadbent: interesting given where these very mature companies were, and maybe

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Julian Broadbent: we were living at this point in time, inside a

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Julian Broadbent: Kodak moment. If you follow me there? Maybe we were

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Julian Broadbent: sitting right in the middle of the digital camera disrupting

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Julian Broadbent: the emulsion film business. Maybe that’s what it was. And

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Julian Broadbent: that was intriguing.

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Sean Aylmer: So, there’s still quite a ways to go from that

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Sean Aylmer: to launching your own EV business. What made you do it?

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Julian Broadbent: It was really, we’re not the youngest startup in the

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Julian Broadbent: world in terms of the average age of the individuals.

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Julian Broadbent: We’re not the cliche. We’re probably a bit more old

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Julian Broadbent: age and cunning than youth and enthusiasm. We’re probably a

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Julian Broadbent: little bit wiser. We actually attract a lot of really senior,

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Julian Broadbent: not as in age, but senior as in high- level personnel.

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Julian Broadbent: We attract people that feel like they want to make

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Julian Broadbent: a difference, and they want to be able to take

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Julian Broadbent: a technology and deliver something remarkable. So, weren’t sitting there saying, “Okay,

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Julian Broadbent: here’s our Harvard business plan and we want to raise

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Julian Broadbent: particular money on the back of this business plan that

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Julian Broadbent: paints a picture of a really audacious goal and a

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Julian Broadbent: big end of the rainbow opportunity that would be incredibly

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Julian Broadbent: hard to solve.” We were probably more, “Why don’t we

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Julian Broadbent: try and understand what people haven’t understood yet? Why don’t

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Julian Broadbent: we try and understand what the gap is here? What

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Julian Broadbent: is the gap between Silicon Valley and Detroit? What is

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Julian Broadbent: the gap between Silicon Valley and the German automakers? Why

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Julian Broadbent: isn’t software technology moving across into more automotive? Why isn’t

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Julian Broadbent: that technology been able to be commercialized?” Even though very,

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Julian Broadbent: very quickly, $100 billion-plus had been pumped into that. And so,

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Julian Broadbent: we just became intrigued. We kind of had automotive experience.

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Julian Broadbent: We kind of knew about technology. We weren’t locked into

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Julian Broadbent: one ecosystem or the other. So, AEV has built itself

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Julian Broadbent: up to be able to create products that are essentially

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Julian Broadbent: gluing technology into the established automotive sector.

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Sean Aylmer: Okay. I mean, we hear about driverless cars and trucks

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Sean Aylmer: and things like that. Is that the headline act for

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Sean Aylmer: AEV, as you put it, or is it primarily what

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Sean Aylmer: you’re doing?

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Julian Broadbent: So, what we do is what the industry is now

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Julian Broadbent: calling X-by-wire, which is like fly-by-wire, drive-by-wire, control-by-wire. In other words,

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Julian Broadbent: it’s controlling an entire machine and all the functions of

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Julian Broadbent: a machine with software. And one aspect of control is

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Julian Broadbent: driving the vehicle, but then there’s other aspects of control

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Julian Broadbent: like the applications that might run on that vehicle, opening

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Julian Broadbent: the doors for a delivery vehicle, operating the system via

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Julian Broadbent: remote control, the tele-operations. All of these things need to

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Julian Broadbent: be synthesised together to create a product that is truly

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Julian Broadbent: running on software. Because the ultimate goal for everyone in

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Julian Broadbent: the entire value chain, the people that make the vehicle,

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Julian Broadbent: the autonomous technology partners, the sensor companies, our company, and

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Julian Broadbent: then the end user, the customer who’s trying to provide

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Julian Broadbent: a service to the consumer. We’re all trying to extract

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Julian Broadbent: value that we couldn’t get before, by taking the driver

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Julian Broadbent: out or removing mechanical components that can be replaced with software.

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Julian Broadbent: But now compared to, say, the early days of the

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Julian Broadbent: industry where some of the companies were literally trying to

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Julian Broadbent: boil the ocean, they would be fully vertically integrated. Everyone’s

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Julian Broadbent: now realised this is an incredibly hard thing to do. So,

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Julian Broadbent: there’s a lot of great partnerships that are forming to

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Julian Broadbent: be able to, I guess, share a slice of the pie.

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Sean Aylmer: Stay with me, Julian. We’ll be back in a minute.

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Sean Aylmer: My guest this morning is Julian Broadbent, founder and CEO

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Sean Aylmer: of Applied EV.
Where are we up to in that

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Sean Aylmer: process or journey or whatever it is, towards getting a,

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Sean Aylmer: I’m going to say, a driverless car? But it’s much broader

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Sean Aylmer: than that. That will be my euphemism for what we’re

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Sean Aylmer: talking about here. And where are the real pain points?

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Julian Broadbent: We’re a lot closer now. We, the industry, we’re a

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Julian Broadbent: lot closer. We are seeing that a lot of autonomous

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Julian Broadbent: vehicle companies are now very much focused on commercialisation, so they’re

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Julian Broadbent: bringing the horizon forward. Remember, the culture before March ’22 was,

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Julian Broadbent: “There’s endless money we can keep shooting for the stars

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Julian Broadbent: and trying to land on the moon.” But when the world

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Julian Broadbent: of free money disappeared, and we had normalised, again, the

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Julian Broadbent: whole industry started to become, “Well, hang on a minute.

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Julian Broadbent: We can’t do this all by ourselves. We need to

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Julian Broadbent: partner and we need to commercialise like yesterday.” Right? “Because

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Julian Broadbent: we’re running out of money. We need to go from

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Julian Broadbent: an idea to a real business.” And so that’s, I guess,

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Julian Broadbent: all the new technology elements of what it takes to

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Julian Broadbent: bring an autonomous vehicle to market. And I guess also,

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Julian Broadbent: maybe serendipitously, the entire automotive side of the equation, the

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Julian Broadbent: vehicle side of the equation have been disrupted by someone

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Julian Broadbent: like Tesla. And so, the entire automotive side of the

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Julian Broadbent: value chain is now saying, “Well, how do we run

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Julian Broadbent: vehicles on software, which creates better margin and better business

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Julian Broadbent: for the automakers, which again happens to be a hand-in-glove

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Julian Broadbent: necessity to run functions, high- level functions like autonomous driving?”

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Julian Broadbent: I hope you can follow that. This is a-

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Sean Aylmer: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My question then is, so with autonomous

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Sean Aylmer: vehicles, all these sub- parts are heading in that direction,

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Sean Aylmer: and there’s a certain fiscal discipline that from March 2022 with

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Sean Aylmer: the energy crisis, inflation, higher interest rates, that has probably

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Sean Aylmer: a good thing for the sector, in a sense, because

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Sean Aylmer: it makes you focus on commerciality of it.
The point

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Sean Aylmer: is that, I mean, there are autonomous trucks, and I know you

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Sean Aylmer: have been involved in autonomous heavy vehicles and things like

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Sean Aylmer: that. I mean, is it a fair question to say, is it

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Sean Aylmer: actually consumers adopting it? Is it Internet of Things that’s

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Sean Aylmer: the issue? What is it that we really need, the

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Sean Aylmer: big hurdle before we get there? Or, is that an

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Sean Aylmer: unfair question?

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Julian Broadbent: No, no, no. It’s absolutely right. The challenges are of

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Julian Broadbent: a very high order of magnitude because of the amount

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Julian Broadbent: of software involved. And when I use software, it’s not

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Julian Broadbent: just front end, what you see on a screen. It’s

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Julian Broadbent: really the middleware, the engine room software. But the entire

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Julian Broadbent: product that is now spread across different partners in the industry, automakers,

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Julian Broadbent: technology companies like us, autonomous software guys, sensor companies, camera companies,

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Julian Broadbent: AI compute, this is what goes into a vehicle. It’s

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Julian Broadbent: a really, really substantially smart machine, probably bordering on having

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Julian Broadbent: to cover more software territory than aerospace. Aerospace is obviously

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Julian Broadbent: looks very dramatic, and it obviously is a very significant thing,

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Julian Broadbent: but we’re talking about essentially that aerospace level of technology

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Julian Broadbent: and some. We’re talking about interfacing with consumers. Aerospace doesn’t

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Julian Broadbent: interface with consumers. They’re all professionals, it’s a well- established industry,

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Julian Broadbent: lots of safety processes. We’re talking about that level of

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Julian Broadbent: software and beyond, because there’s all that functionality entering our lives.

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Julian Broadbent: And so, to be able to not have any, I guess, failure points

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Julian Broadbent: or any blue screens is incredibly difficult. That’s what the industry’s,

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Julian Broadbent: I guess, thinking about at the moment. And if I could

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Julian Broadbent: share an example with you, everyone gets a new car

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Julian Broadbent: every now and again, and we’ve had a few new

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Julian Broadbent: cars in our family over the last few years, and

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Julian Broadbent: nearly every one of them, brand new, 2022, 2023, have had

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Julian Broadbent: a problem with software. And when you think about that

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Julian Broadbent: in the context of a vehicle that might be self-driving,

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Julian Broadbent: that’s diabolical, right?

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Sean Aylmer: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No room for error.

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Julian Broadbent: I’m just talking about the way your phone might connect.

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Sean Aylmer: Yeah. Yeah.

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Julian Broadbent: So, the ability to be able to tolerate a failure

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Julian Broadbent: point in the software, which is now not become the

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Julian Broadbent: second order level of control, because us as drivers would

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Julian Broadbent: be the first level of order. The software is now

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Julian Broadbent: the first order control of the machine. So, now it

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Julian Broadbent: needs to be perfect.
And so, getting really specific about

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Julian Broadbent: your question, the safety and the robustness of that software,

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Julian Broadbent: the ability to do error checking, the ability for the

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Julian Broadbent: software to correct itself, to be able to manage different

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Julian Broadbent: modes when something hasn’t worked, and being able to protect

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Julian Broadbent: almost completely against it, is now the challenge. But the

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Julian Broadbent: good news is that horizon is now in our sights.

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Sean Aylmer: And we will get there?

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Julian Broadbent: Yeah, definitely we will. It won’t be a slam dunk

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Julian Broadbent: arrival of autonomous cars from the George Jetson kind of …

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Julian Broadbent: It’s going to happen like a lot of these fairly

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Julian Broadbent: sophisticated technologies in our lives, it’s going to appear in

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Julian Broadbent: other industries. It’s going to be proven out. It’s going

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Julian Broadbent: to be developed in safe, what we call operating domains.

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Julian Broadbent: There’s going to be real commercial opportunities in these operating

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Julian Broadbent: domains, and that’s going to fuel the industry to mature

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Julian Broadbent: that technology to bring it to a consumer level.

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Sean Aylmer: Julian, thank you for talking to Fear & Greed.

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Julian Broadbent: Oh, really appreciate the time. Thank you so much.

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Sean Aylmer: That was Julian Broadbent, founder and CEO of Applied EV.

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Sean Aylmer: This is the Fear & Greed Daily Interview. Join us every

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Sean Aylmer: morning for the full episode of Fear & Greed, Australia’s most

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Sean Aylmer: popular business podcast. I’m Sean Aylmer. Enjoy your day.