Vehicles of The Future: Dr. Stefan Heck Of Nauto On The Leading Edge Technologies That Are Making Cars & Trucks Smarter, Safer, and More Sustainable
An Interview With David Leichner
… Creating an experience is especially important in the auto industry but more broadly applies to consumer industries i.e., understanding consumers, personas and design thinking. The car is an important part of our life, and any kind of transportation system is an important experience. Not just classic user research (i.e., do you prefer one color over the other), but really understanding what people are doing and how they are behaving. As vehicles start to evolve and change, it’s important to understand these aspects.
The automotive industry has been disrupted recently with new exciting technologies that have made cars and trucks much smarter, much safer, and much more sustainable and more environmentally friendly.
What other exciting disruptive technologies will we see in the next few years? How much longer will fossil fuel powered cars be produced? When will we see fully autonomous vehicles? Can we overcome the challenge of getting stuck in traffic? As cars become “moving computers”, do we have to worry about people hacking our cars? How else will our driving experience be different over the next five years? Authority Magazine started a new interview series about “Exciting Leading Edge Technologies That Are Making Cars & Trucks Smarter, Safer, and More Sustainable.” In this series we are talking to leaders of automotive companies, automotive tech companies, EV companies, and other tech leaders who can talk about the vehicles of the future. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Stefan Heck.
Dr. Stefan Heck is CEO and Founder of Nauto, the Palo Alto-based an AI-technology company on a mission to make driving safer and smarter. Nauto’s intelligent driver safety system assesses how drivers interact with the vehicle and the road ahead to reduce distracted driving and prevent collisions.
Prior to Nauto, Dr. Heck was Consulting Professor at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University, directed the Energy Transformation Collaborative and was a research fellow at the Steyer Taylor Center at the Stanford business and law school.
Previously he was a Senior Partner at McKinsey and co-founded and led the Cleantech and Sustainability practice there, working extensively with Global 100 technology, industrial, infrastructure, building systems, retail, utility and energy companies across the US, China, Korea, Japan, India, and Europe.
He is on the Board of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, is an angel investor in disruptive technology companies and is the author of a critically-acclaimed book, Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century. He was recently named to the inaugural Recode100 list.
Stefan earned a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from UCSD and a B.S. with honors in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University. As an undergrad, he launched Stanford’s first Solar Car project, which continues in the present day.
By Dr. Stefan Heck, CEO, Nauto, a leading provider of AI-based vehicle safety technology for commercial fleets and the automotive sector.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started in the automotive industry?
I first entered the world of automotive as a college student at Stanford University when I co-founded the Stanford Solar Car Project. It was sponsored by General Motors in 1989 after they won the World Solar Challenge in Australia with their Sunraycer solar car. They sponsored a nationwide competition with universities and colleges to build solar vehicles and race from Epcot Center, Florida to their Warren Tech Center in Michigan. It was a very unorthodox way to get started in the automotive industry, by starting with electric and solar vehicles, which back then were not at all common — it was more of a research project to push the technology edge.
The other area that shaped my view on the automotive industry is spending three decades working both with tech companies in Silicon Valley and during my years as a senior partner at McKinsey where I was working with auto companies and other large industrial companies. I came out of those experiences with the view that there is a best of both worlds approach. There are things that tech companies do really well: software development, sprint cycles, understanding use cases, iterating rapidly, and so on. There are also things that auto companies do really well: large scale manufacturing, quality testing to last many years, how they design robust systems for that kind of environment, etc.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There have been so many great experiences and mentors. The one thing that stands out looking back on my career is the amount of luck. In so many cases, I was simply in the right place at the time and was prepared to take advantage of those opportunities.
For example, I worked very early on solar cars — which underneath are really electric cars with a solar panel — and that’s of course a huge disruption rippling through the auto industry today. In college, I studied neuroscience and through that discovered neural networks, which, at this point, 30 years ago was very much an academic research discipline with few commercial applications. Now it has become a core central pillar in the form of deep learning for everything AI is doing: perception, safety, understanding medical issues and recognizing diseases. It’s completely fortuitous that an area I got interested in intellectually 30 years ago has turned out to be so fundamental to contemporary major economic growth areas and business productivity.
Another example is when I started a web design and programming business, basically because I needed to pay my way through graduate school. Things were largely still done manually. I worked on some of Apple’s product web pages at the very start before there was an Apple store and you could only look up product information on the web but not yet transact. This led me to Mckinsey and being one of the first people there to really think through and understand what implications the internet would have on business in the early 90s. It was a phenomenal coincidence.
The last example I’ll share is midway during my time at McKinsey. I was leading the semiconductor practice and expanded it to Asia during one of the big boom times in the industry. I got to know most of the leading executives and companies in the semiconductor space. These connections are key with today’s shortage of chip supplies for AI and IoT devices.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
The most interesting project I am currently working on is to apply the same computer vision and deep learning technologies that people are using to try and develop autonomous vehicles, but to use it to combine with a human driver.
The idea is you add computer vision and AI intelligence that looks at the surroundings and understands the driving context (other vehicles around, signs, the road surface, traffic lights, pedestrians, etc.) and also understands what the driver is doing (understanding where they are looking, whether they are still awake, if their attention is diverted by something else, like food or a cell phone) and fuses all these elements together and in real-time makes a decision whether the situation is headed in a bad direction or if there an imminent collision over the next 3–10 seconds. When this is an imminent risk the AI will give the driver a warning, and if there is high risk but no imminent collision threats the driver gets feedback to reduce their biggest risk. Today, our device that retrofits any type of commercial vehicle like pick-up trucks, vans, large semi-tractor trailer trucks, helps reduce risk and collision by 50–80%, about triple what typical ADAS or traditional safety systems can provide without taking control of the vehicle away from the driver.
The underlying idea is simple: human drivers can be extremely good drivers. We have some customers who have driven 40 years without a collision. That’s far better than the average human driver, but it’s also far better than any autonomous vehicle today. Humans are really good at complex situations (think multiple pedestrians at crossways, someone responding to an object on the road, and having to anticipate not just what they do but also what the other vehicles need to do to avoid it). Nauto takes advantage of the fact that humans are there and can make good judgments in complex situations. However, AI is good at some things that humans are not: Nobody likes driving for hours on a boring road — we all become distracted or become sleepy, but the AI never does. This is the best of both worlds.
By having a human in the vehicle, we can actually drive under any conditions and learn from these good drivers without taking excessive risk leaving everything to the AI. Today, if you put an autonomous vehicle (AV) prototype into a risky scenario, like a snowstorm or in heavy traffic in downtown New York City they often get stuck. Even most AVs today still have a driver in the vehicle to take control if the vehicle does something incorrect. By being human first, AI as co-pilot we are taking this idea and scaling it up to billions of miles and millions of vehicles.
This matters because AVs are expensive. Nauto’s tech can upgrade any vehicle, even a 20-year-old pickup truck, with sensing and computer vision capabilities, for less than $1000 and make that vehicle and driver safer: anywhere from 50% — 80% reduction in collisions. We can make a huge difference and eliminate over half of collisions causing the 42,000 fatalities that we have in the U.S. each year, and over 1.3 million fatalities globally.
That is why I am so excited — this opportunity allows the learning to happen faster. We can learn from the best human drivers as opposed to waiting for AI to learn on its own. We can also deploy at a massive scale to most of the billion vehicles out there today and eliminate a huge percentage of roadway collisions in just months, making substantial progress from a safety and societal benefit point of view.
How do you think this might change the world?
For people between the ages of five and 50-years old, getting killed or injured in a car accident is the number one risk, much more so than flying, falling off a ladder, and other things people fear like getting bitten by a shark. Deaths are also only the tip of the iceberg with hundreds of thousands of people critically injured each year. We are solving one of the top causes of harm and risk today.
In the mid and long term, the opportunity to transform the way we live and the way our cities work is real. Today, cars are parked idle most of the time. We literally purchase them to be parked 98% of the time, and then we sit in traffic because there are too many vehicles on the road at the same time. Add to that, a majority of traffic jams are caused by collisions. So, by eliminating collisions we can eliminate half of the traffic jams.
Another benefit is the data on where and when people are driving, and our ability to suggest improvements in the routing. Some drivers are already doing this with apps like Waze and Google maps, but it’s still not as optimal as it could be because ultimately, we’re still driving in vehicles that are individually owned and parked all the time.
With computer vision you can safely share vehicles without worrying what may happen inside when sharing a ride. This is a use case that we solve for today in passenger fleets to make sure both the driver and passenger are safe. By making mobility safer and more accessible and lower cost, we start to remove some of the long term persistent economic disparities and challenges. For example, if you look at unemployment in the U.S., half of it is structural because people cannot afford a vehicle and therefore cannot commute to where the jobs are. If we can combine ride sharing, electric vehicles, which are more efficient and cleaner, with safety capabilities, then we can really provide transportation as a service to anyone, even if you cannot afford to own a car.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?
As far as dystopian scenarios, any technology can have good applications and have terrible applications. The questions that need to be asked are ‘how is it deployed’, ‘how is it used’, ‘who has control over it’, and ‘what is the policy environment for it.’ If you take what Nauto is doing today with computer vision and AI, it can save lives by helping people avoid collisions and make them better drivers. It’s a prevention tool in service of human quality of life. That said, if you misapply the same technology without the technology and security safeguards Nauto has put in place, it can quickly flip into a surveillance capability. If there is no governance around what is being captured or what is being looked at, and who gets to see that and how it’s retained, then it can very quickly become a way to gather data that intrudes on people’s privacy.
This is one of the reasons why, when we architected Nauto, we were very careful to make the technical pipeline AI-first rather than video-first. We can run our real-time feedback alert safety warnings without capturing ANY video. Most of the sensitivity about autonomous cars or computer vision is usually around filming of the driver or passengers and who gets to see that. Nauto completely avoids this scenario. Our system is geared to give the driver feedback and warnings, first and foremost, and then based on the discussions with the fleet, we can select a very small number of events that do get recorded or captured — like to exonerate a driver if a crash was not their fault or to be able to coach a driver on a risk they took. It then becomes part of a training program.
What are a few things that most excite you about the automotive industry as it is today? Why?
We’re on the cusp of multiple transformations that are all happening at the same time.
The first is that we are finally at the point where electric vehicles are the same price upfront and much lower total cost of ownership — and as battery costs continue to decline, we’re going to see electric cars become cheaper. They’ll have fewer parts, less complexity. People are also starting to see that they are more convenient since you can just charge at home and not go to a gas station. Plus, batteries are becoming more powerful and so range anxiety vanishes when you have 300–400-mile range on a single charge and rapid charging to top you up.
The second is AI being applied to driving. Both in what Nauto is doing (assisting, helping and improving the human driver for safety) and also in the next five years or so we will begin to see it evolve into fully autonomous driving. This will likely first be for low-speed shuttles and long-haul trucks. Eventually, full autonomous driving will become more mainstream.
Thirdly, we’re starting to see people rethink multiple modes and in making the data and the ability to trip chain available. Trip chaining involves combining multiple activities in one trip, e.g., running errands on your way to home from work or swinging by to pick up your child from school. We used to think only of static mode mix — e.g., some people take their bike and others take their car. But increasingly we are sharing vehicles and roads and blending trips even sometimes within the same trip: you can get from a scooter to a train and then get into a taxi or Uber, but all of this is contingent on having an app that can show you intermodal routes and availability. It’s now just starting to be integrated by Google and Apple into the phone. For example, when you search for directions on your iPhone, you receive multiple ways to get to a destination (walking, bike, train, etc.). This is a wonderful shift. Right now, public transit is still suffering lower ridership due to the pandemic, but it will recover over time and become part of this trip chaining whenever frequency intervals are short enough.
Most US cities still see transit as a welfare program for the economically disadvantaged but in NYC, Asia, Europe or Vancouver, where intervals between departures drop to below 7 minutes, a magic threshold is reached, and people stop consulting schedules and transit is often not only the cheapest but the fastest way to get around and with trip chaining you do not have last or first mile gaps anymore.
The next big revolution that is still to come is reinventing urban space. With the ability to use shared vehicles, we can free up the $40 trillion dollars of parked assets (most of the time cars are either parked or in traffic) and unlock a lot of productivity. Same thing for urban space: one-third of urban land is devoted to parking — a complete waste from a productivity viewpoint. By redesigning these systems, making downtown areas walkable, limiting car trips all together, and then getting higher capacity electric shared vehicles (trains or on-demand rides), they can be regenerated. What’s really exciting is that all this is coming together at the same time, so we can have zero emissions, zero fatalities (this might not happen in our lifetime, but we’re getting closer), and zero congestion since we’ll be able to route more efficiently.
All this will transform life in the city. It’s the most exciting time in transportation since the invention of the steam engine and the elevator — two big technical breakthroughs that radically transformed the urban footprint horizontally and vertically. Before that most people died within a 50-mile radius of where they were born, and most houses were no more than 4 stories.
What are a few things that most concern you about the automotive industry as it is today? What must be done to address these challenges?
There are a couple concerns.
First — we’re just starting to see the fusion of the best of technology (software and AI) and the best of automotive companies. I think if we are going to truly have a future of mobility then we need to meld this expertise. Automotive companies are fantastic at building large-scale highly efficient and reliable systems and software companies are great at innovating and rapidly iterating, optimizing and understanding situations. Particularly with AI, we can now go beyond human capabilities. However, we need the best of both of these worlds to redesign transportation; we need large amounts of data to optimize without experimenting on a new system with human lives at risk.
Some people are looking for a single panacea that AV will solve everything. If we all have individually owned AVs, things could get much worse. For example, instead of parking, people might let their cars circulate. If that car is not electric, now you have gasoline vehicles circulating in urban areas causing more congestion and pollution. I sometimes ask people to visualize being stuck on a highway in congestion with all the cars around you deadheading empty or driving dry cleaning around without a person. I am not a believer in singular tech solutions. I truly believe it’s the combination that enables a system productivity revolution.
I worry about jurisdictions and regulatory interventions that don’t optimize the system efficiency and safety as a whole. We cannot solve transportation without thinking about regulation and land use. We need uniform safety standards to make the vehicle affordable. Today, we still occasionally have lobbying to optimize profits at the expense of safety. For example, we could make vehicles safer if we universally adopted better pedestrian standards. You see this difference between the U.S. and Europe in the fatality rate of pedestrians. Large SUVs protect their occupants well, but we’ve seen a 22% increase in pedestrian fatalities which was further aggravated by the additional speeding caused by less congested streets during the pandemic. We also see that many cities are prioritizing cars over walking or biking, taking more land and making biking and walking less safe. Our urban design needs to catch up. People think Europe has always been inherently safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, but this was a design choice in the 1970s when too many kids were killed, and regulatory standards changed. Some changes are simple like vertical stacking — the Zurich airport is a wonderful example with planes, cars, local and long-distance trains stacked vertically on 4 levels all with an easy elevator interchange.
Lastly, we need to think about accessibility, availability and equity for transportation. We have public transit deserts that cause unemployment. We have food deserts in part because people do not have good transportation to a grocery store. We need to start thinking about equity and how we ensure access for people who may not live in the wealthiest neighborhood and need transportation access. The U.S. thinks of having a private car as a luxury and that public transit is a form of welfare, but that’s not how the rest of the world sees things. In Asia and Europe, wealthy people also ride public transit because it’s cleaner, faster and more efficient. So, there is a mindset transformation that still needs to happen in the U.S.
Based on your vantage point as an insider in the automotive industry, what other exciting disruptive technologies will we see in the next few years? Can you share some of the new developments that will make vehicles smarter, safer, and more sustainable?
Computer vision is one area that will disrupt the auto industry. It’s changing what’s possible– being able to see at night, see further distances, having computer vision that never falls asleep or gets distracted. This is powerful in terms of preventing collisions.
Even something as simple as the fusion 360 view so you can see what’s happening on all sides of the car. Parallel parking has drastically changed and has become easier with the inception of ultrasonic sensors. Sensors in the infrastructure so we can know in real-time what’s where and the fact that we can GPS to locate anything and everything these days — phones, cars, etc. The ability for Augmented Reality (AR) to overlay and help locate places and destinations and so on. A lot of these technologies are really just beginning to come in and are significant improvements for convenience.
Things that have not happened yet but are also on that same path include real-time inventory for things like parking spaces, which can be optimized on an app once we have the right data aggregation. The dystopian side of this is if we start to have cameras on every vehicle and we mismanage that data. It can quickly turn into a surveillance system. This is why we need good protection of data rights and consent for different uses.
In your opinion, how much longer will fossil fuel powered cars be produced? When do you think EVs will be the majority of vehicles in use? Can you explain?
I think we are in the steep part of the inflection (the “S” curve where one tech replaces another). At the beginning it takes a long time to get even a one percent adoption. We’re seeing a ramp in growth in 2-wheelers (scooter and/or elective bikes) that has far outstripped EVs. But even with EVs, we have countries like Norway where 65% of vehicles are electric. This past year in California, over 1 million EVs were sold. In some towns, like Palo Alto, 25 percent of all new vehicles are already electric. Nationwide we’re headed to 4–5 percent EVs in the near term. I think the transition is already upon us now that EVs are the same price up front. I suspect that before the end of this decade, in terms of new car sales, a majority will be electric. EVs will be cheaper, have higher performance, be cleaner, more convenient, and will be a better experience all around. EVs are also easier to maintain. The installed base of existing vehicles turns over more gradually. Typically, vehicles are on the road for 12–15 years so there is a lag effect. However, I think by the middle-to-end of the next decade (around 2035–2040) it’ll be rare to see an internal combustion engine vehicle on today’s roadways. EVs just make more sense, not only from a carbon pollution and local air pollution standpoint, but also from a cost of ownership and efficiency point of view.
When do you think we will see fully autonomous vehicles deployed in a mainstream way? What do you think are the main barriers to reaching that stage?
Here in California, it is no longer unusual to see AVs on the road. They are still in pilots and testing, and nearly all have human safety drivers as a backup. But over the course of this decade, we will see some driving segments shift to AVs. The earliest use cases are closed loop shuttles (e.g., corporate campus, or many trains at airports), and long-haul trucks driving on relativity empty interstates in sunny weather — e.g., LA to Florida — where the autonomous vehicle has an advantage in productivity because they are not constrained to one 8–10-hour shift. Robotaxis in constrained urban areas with lower speeds are also being pursued, though they still get hit by human drivers at rates that exceed human collision rates. It may take well into the next decade to scale AVs into more challenging environments — crowded urban areas, snowy states, developing countries with dirt roads. We also must remember that AVs will still be expensive — a luxury vehicle or a commercial vehicle — and that in many commercial applications the human in the vehicle isn’t just a driver so won’t go away. For service technicians, utility linemen, and salespeople, the AV won’t really save time or wages. The economics of giving an electrician an AV so they can fill out more paperwork between service calls aren’t really all that compelling. It’s cheaper to automate and digitize the paperwork, than to upgrade them to an AV.
How else will our driving experience be different over the next five years?
I think we will see a lot of gradual changes. We’ve seen some already, like congestion getting lower during the pandemic as more people telecommuted. We will see more of an increase of different kinds of vehicles, both on the small end (micromobility) like scooters which are more versatile, and you can take them on trains and buses. Increasingly we are using apps more for everything we do from entertainment to shopping, dating, and even doctor visits. All of this is changing transportation demand. Apps like Waze allow you to report and control traffic flow and congestion. Automated capabilities to capture data from the vehicle to improve everybody else’s routing and driving experience will also increase. I think over the next five years we’ll start to see more app usage to find the best parking spot, to optimize departure time, and so on. The same thing is happening with public transit where different types of vehicles are going electric with the ability to plan and integrate a route across several different types of transportation: walking to scooter to train to uber.
The part people have missed is that trips are not single purpose. Many people are doing what you call trip chaining. For example, on your way home from work, you stop and pick up your child and then run an errand before heading home. This is much more common and gets a lot better with integrated apps and being able to plan.
One of the big changes coming to the driving experience is the role of insurance. As collision rates get reduced, the nature of insurance will change dramatically. As we get more safety technologies and high degrees of automation on our roads today some ways driving will become more standardized and through this safer. You won’t have the inexperienced teenage driver creating dangerous driving situations or ones that cause a backup.
My expertise is in product security, so I’m particularly interested in this question. Recently there were famous cases of hackers breaking into the software running automobiles, for ransomware or for other malicious purposes. Based on your experience, what should auto companies do to uncover vulnerabilities in the development process to safeguard their vehicles?
The topic of security (both physical and also cyber security) for vehicles is a very important one. Cars are now basically computers on wheels, so like any computer, they are vulnerable to hacking if they are connected, and more and more cars are connected to mobile networks and wifi. This opens the possibility to not only someone breaking into the car and hacking the computer system, but now there is increasingly a way to get in through networks. Just like servers and banks, there are techniques to make sure access is encrypted, that authorization is required, and passwords and tokens are set. Therefore, car companies need to keep up with the latest security practices.
One of the bigger challenges that’s unique to automotive is the product cycles for cars are very long. It can take 6–7 years to develop a new car and once shipped, lives on the road for 10–15 years. That is not true for most of our other electronic products like cell phones. For that reason, it’s easier to continue to refresh cyber security in handheld products than cars. The best approach to keep code safe is the moment a vulnerability is detected, to be able to issue quick over-the-air updates to fix the issues. This is the direction that the automobile industry needs to go as well. You won’t have to take it into the dealer to have a software patch.
In recent times, many auto manufacturers have introduced over-the-air (OTA) services that can potentially give hackers an entry point into the inner systems of the vehicles. Based on your experience, what can vehicle manufacturers do to respond to cyber-attacks?
A lot of vehicles do have OTA updates. While this also gives an entry point opportunity for a hacker to introduce malicious code, the reality is that most systems are architected in a way where there is authentication to know where that update comes from and you won’t download, or let alone install an update, unless it comes from a known and good source. It does not mean that we can avoid situations like what happened when Microsoft security software was the source of an error and intrusion, but as long as the servers themselves are kept safe you can’t get in through that. The car will always check to ensure that this is coming from the manufacturer. This is the same process that happens across personal computers today. It depends on how well they are architected, but in that scenario it’s incumbent on the car manufacturers to make sure they are following the latest best practices from the electronics world for car over-the-air updates as well.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need to Create a Highly Successful Career in The Automotive Industry?
This is a tough one. It’s a very dynamic and exciting industry. There are lots of things happening, so it’s hard to cull it down to just five, but here is my personal list:
1- Come at this with a growth mindset. Innovation, rapid iteration and the ability to stay flexible are all items you must keep in mind when it comes to your education and the product you’re building. For example, from a vehicle point of view, thinking about over-the-air updates, the cloud and connected pieces of the vehicle, fusing the best of the auto industry and the tech industry, the ability to think about deep learning as a central part of how the vehicle evolves and adapts. As part of this, it’s important to take a proactive approach to your career. The era of picking a company and spending your whole career there is a thing of the past with the rapid change in this industry.
2- Having a deep understanding of technology is critical. Automotive technology is being disrupted by technologies and enabled by technologies. The few that are most important going forward are: software, and specifically, deep learning and AI and new techniques for getting the vehicle to be intelligent. Different kinds of 3D spatial sensing, whether that’s light or computer vision. Batteries and electric motors and the ability to dynamically control things. Lastly, a long-time skill of the auto industry, mass production techniques. For things to be reliable, scalable, and affordable, mass production still remains critical.
3- Creating an experience is especially important in the auto industry but more broadly applies to consumer industries i.e., understanding consumers, personas and design thinking. The car is an important part of our life, and any kind of transportation system is an important experience. Not just classic user research (i.e., do you prefer one color over the other), but really understanding what people are doing and how they are behaving. As vehicles start to evolve and change, it’s important to understand these aspects.
4- Business model innovation. It’s not just the tech changing, the business model is also evolving. For example, people are now sharing vehicles, renting or leasing (i.e., Zip Car). More and more people are used to consuming things as a service and ordering through the phone. People don’t normally think of food delivery as a form of transportation, but if you think about it, instead of an individual going to a restaurant in your car it’s the food coming to you. Increasingly certain kinds of experiences and services will be all digital. Things that can be data driven or visual experience driven can be made entirely virtual and not require any transportation. Commuting to work used to mean a car trip. Now often it’s via Zoom. When we talk about the auto industry it’s important to note that it’s not just the form of in-vehicle entertainment, it’s something that reshapes demand and use cases of what a vehicle needs to do.
5- This is true across industries, it’s not unique to the auto industry, but something I would advise anybody looking for a great successful career is to find yourself at least one mentor. None of us can succeed alone. You need someone that is there to push you, to catch you if something goes wrong, who will let you make mistakes (and learn from them), but who will also guide your path and challenge you. This is pivotal to any career including this industry. Given what I mentioned earlier on how much is changing and the complexities of the technologies, the automotive versions of this would be to find several different mentors with different domain expertise and different backgrounds.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
In my view one of the most powerful transformations is when we actually experience a sense of community and a sense of togetherness, a sense of interdependence. In a funny way it’s an odd thing to say for an automotive industry, when for 100-years now the car has made us more independent and more sheltered from other people. My greatest wish would be that we use the set of disruptions now coming into transportation (electrification, the ability to access services through an app, and the ability to provide it on a fractional basis making it affordable and available) and use that moment to rethink how we also make it a public good.
Transportation is really a right. We diminish people’s opportunities for education, good food, employment, etc. when we do not have transportation. The catalytic moment I would like to see is that we ask ourselves not only what’s technically possible but what is right, moral and ethical, and how we would want to use these technologies to bring people together.
A simple example includes how the car not only protects the occupant on the inside, but how the car protects a child playing near the street or a pedestrian crossing the street. So how do we set standards, both manufacturers as well as regulators, to make sure vulnerable road users are equally factored into safety standards and designs of vehicles? Additionally, how do we make sure that shared vehicles are safe for everyone to use? So, we can use the tech for good or evil.
That’s a long and complex picture but the gist of it is how do we use vehicles and transportation to bring people together. Vehicles enable people to roam, grow, and trade to flourish. They are a huge boon to our economy. We’d be a fraction of the GDP globally if we did not have transportation.
This has been the approach for the company I lead now, Nauto, from the beginning, which is we think this is an ideal time for partnerships that combine the best of auto and tech into the next generation of vehicles. In our case in particular, being the next generation of safety to achieve ‘vision zero’ and eliminate as many injuries and fatalities as we can (ultimately with the goal of zero), but we have some time to go.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I have an extensive set of links on my LinkedIn profile (https://www.linkedin.com/in/stefanheck/). I published a large number of articles when I was at McKinsey on the topics of clean tech and disruptive technologies, including a book on the 15-fold productivity shift due to the Resource Revolution. During my time at Stanford, I published speeches and articles as well. More recently, I have written several blog posts and articles about technology and what’s happening in transportation, which can be found on the Nauto website (https://www.nauto.com/).
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
About The Interviewer: David Leichner is a veteran of the Israeli high-tech industry with significant experience in the areas of cyber and security, enterprise software and communications. At Cybellum, a leading provider of Product Security Lifecycle Management, David is responsible for creating and executing the marketing strategy and managing the global marketing team that forms the foundation for Cybellum’s product and market penetration. Prior to Cybellum, David was CMO at SQream and VP Sales and Marketing at endpoint protection vendor, Cynet. David is the Chairman of the Friends of Israel and Member of the Board of Trustees of the Jerusalem Technology College. He holds a BA in Information Systems Management and an MBA in International Business from the City University of New York.