The to-be-named joint venture has test locations in Boston, which also is the venture's headquarters; Pittsburgh; Las Vegas; Santa Monica, Calif.; Singapore; and Seoul.
Iagnemma, 47, spoke with Staff Reporters Alexa St. John and Pete Bigelow on the June 15 episode of "Shift: A Podcast About Mobility." Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What has this time looked like for you?
A: We were in a very solid position from day one, from a cash perspective, from a team perspective. Obviously, COVID had a huge impact in terms of really requiring us to do most of our work remotely, but much of what we're doing is software development, so we were geared up for remote work. Now, the one thing you can't do, and that we've been able to do only recently in limited fashion, is get on the road and test software. We have had to change our approach to testing. It's been an increased emphasis on simulation rather than on road testing.
What can you do in simulation?
When COVID hit and when we were forced to really pause on-road testing, the good news is we didn't grind to a halt. Far from it. We have today a strong capability to do what you might call agent-based simulation or simulation of autonomous vehicle driving policy. In other words, figuring out how your car is going to react in a particular situation and the decisions it'll make.
The simulation today I would characterize as reasonably mature, but there's still some work to do. With all that said, there's still no substitute ultimately for getting your software on the road and seeing what happens in the real world.
Have your mission or priorities changed with the virus? Are Levels 4 and 5 still the focus?
Our mission has not changed, and I would say, if anything, this period in time has really caused us to double down on our mission, reemphasize our growth strategy. Our fundamental focus is on making autonomous mobility a global reality.
The JV began doing meal delivery in Las Vegas in May. What does this mean for you long term?
Our core focus today remains moving people, and the reason for that is that it's the biggest opportunity out there. It's the biggest commercial opportunity. The technology, whether you're delivering people or parcels, you have to solve some very hard technical challenges. So my point of view is, if we're going to go off and solve those challenges, let's do it in the service of addressing the biggest opportunity we can find, and that's moving people.
That is today, and will be for the foreseeable future, our primary focus. But we are interested in these what I call adjacent opportunities, and moving packages is one of those — last-mile delivery, if you will. In the future, certainly I wouldn't rule out and would expect that you may see some activity from the joint venture in other areas beyond moving people from A to B.
The joint venture originally said it would not get involved in running ride-hailing, data or network services of its own. Has this changed? What about commercial vehicle applications?
We are developing mobility services and will partner eventually with ride-hail customers and partners around the world to put our vehicles on their networks. We won't ourselves develop a ride-hail network. Developing the network to reach the customer, that is a fiercely competitive, highly capital-intensive place to play. It's not our core competency. But we will be developing the technology that powers future autonomous mobility services.
For commercial vehicles, I see that as one of those adjacent areas. There is certainly significant market potential there, and it relies on similar, though not the same, technology to what we're developing for moving people. So will we explore that opportunity? Is there potential in the future that we'll make some moves in that space? The answer is yes. We're not there today.