Bringing Connectivity to the Transportation Industry with Autonomic CEO Gavin Sherry

Episode 86

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Gavin Sherry (LinkedIn) got his start in technology when he pulled a computer out of a dumpster and taught himself how to code. Now he is the CEO of Autonomic, which was acquired by Ford and is helping to connect the transportation industry to the digital world. 

On this episode of IT Visionaries, Gavin talks about the future of transportation and how his team is building ways for mobility and applications to become a larger part of the transportation industry. 

Best Advice: “Find people you respect who you can talk to about how hard the job is.”

Key Takeaways:

The Autonomic Story — (2:00)

Gavin has always been fascinated with technology, so he put his interests to work by creating a company that does large scale processing of data so that it’s easier for all people to consume. The idea for Autonomic came after Gavin sold his car and found that using Uber was more convenient than actually owning a vehicle. And when he was looking to buy a car, he noticed he was more interested in the in-car applications and technology than the “traditional” features of a car. He saw a need in the market for something that could provide the type of connectivity and applications people like him were looking for. Autonomic did just that thanks to the Transportation Mobility Cloud.

“I’ve really been attracted to data my entire life. There’s something deeply intrinsic there.”

“A key aspect of building a successful company is wanting to help, working with people who want that help, and learning something yourself.”

Keeping a start-up mindset after being acquired — (12:30)

Autonomic was acquired by Ford in 2018, but Gavin says that keeping the start-up feel was important to the work that his team was doing. He believes that the feel and culture of a small company or a start-up yields more innovation, so keeping that was one of his goals throughout the acquisition process.

“It’s a really strong belief of mine that most innovation takes place in a startup environment, which is more constrained, more focused. And big companies are very good at operationalizing things at a really incredible scale worldwide and so on. And so bringing those two things together is a really interesting problem for today’s large and small companies.”

Working with a focus toward the future — (15:00)

So much of what Autonomic does will have an impact on the future of driving and transportation. The way people get around will fundamentally change. Sometimes that thought can become overwhelming, but Gavin always makes sure to take things one step at a time and keep his eye trained on what is important at the moment. 

“The most important thing is to put one foot in front of the other and make sure that you’re heading in the right direction. When you’re building things it’s always like that. It’s hard to judge the present or progress on a daily basis. But the important thing is momentum, continuing to move, continuing to build, ensuring your in going in the right direction, and know that you’re not going to have a breakthrough every day.”

The Transportation Mobility Cloud (TMC)— (18:50 & 33:00)

Gavin and his co-founders were frustrated that there was no good connection between the world of transportation and our digital lives. There was a whole world of opportunity for digital revolutions in the future, but Autonomic was focused on what were the elements of transportation that would remain the same throughout those revolutions and how could they make that more digitally connected. 

With the TMC, Gavin and his team wanted to address a problem they saw — a lack of killer car applications.

“‘Why doesn’t everything just work like Uber?’ That was essentially what we’re asking ourselves with respect to the mobility. And our belief was that there was a missing piece of infrastructure that needed to be built in the mobility industry. That would be a software platform and since it was about integrating into the digital world, it would probably be operated by the company that built it because that’s a hallmark of great modern particularly enterprise-oriented software.”

“We tried to hone in on what things would remain the same in the industry. What do we need in today’s world? What would we need in a world where electric vehicles are pervasive? What will we need in a world where autonomous vehicles are pervasive? And we decided to start building that kind of technology. We believe that connectivity between the vehicle and the cloud is of paramount importance.”

“If you look at on your phone, how many of the applications have anything to do with mobility. There’s obviously an Uber app or Lyft app, and maybe a Lime, or Bird app, but nothing compared to your other sort of entertainment options like Instagram and all the various applications of that sort. We wanted to know why not? And one reason is that it’s so hard to build applications for the transportation industry and so there’s something missing and we’re trying to fill that gap. We’re trying to make it really simple for mobile developers, modern developers to build new creative things for car owners, for mobility users the way we see for mobility use cases like the early applications we saw for the iPhone or the Android. The question in my mind is what will be the Instagram for the transportation industry? The thing that everyone needs to install and use all the time. It can’t just be Waze, right? It has to be something we’ll compelling beyond that.”

Ensuring security of the platform — (28:30)

With more digitally- and cloud-connected transportation devices comes more need for security around those digital infrastructures. When people’s location data and their modes of transportation are opened up to potential hacking or breaches, you need to take governance and security much more seriously. 

“People are very sensitive to how information about their location could be used. And that’s rightfully so. And I think we will see much more focus on this in the media, in society and politics and so on. And the reason I believe that is … people would understandably not want surveillance of their movement. So we take people’s rights and their ability to consent to revoke access to that information very seriously. Additionally, given that our technology can be used to actuate things in the physical world, we need to protect and limit that access.”

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As the transportation industry continues to change, Autonomic CEO Gavin Sherry explains how he’s helping bring more connectivity to vehicles everywhere.

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