TTWCP-834-05: Walter Sullivan, Global Marketing Director; Senior Program Manager of Elekt

On This Episode…

Walter Sullivan is the newly appointed head of Elektrobit
(EB) Automotive’s new Silicon Valley Innovation Lab,
responsible for developing and leading the company’s
presence in Silicon Valley, as well as building and fostering strategic partnerships around the globe.


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Below is a rush transcript of this segment, it might contain errors.


Walter Sullivan – Elektrobit

Airing Date: October 3, 2015


Craig Peterson:  Automotive, of course, is the wave of the future and it’s moving away from even being called automotive. Mercedes’ new concept car, doesn’t even, they don’t even call it a car. It’s a living space and it happens to be on wheels. Well there’s a lot of technology involved in that. A lot of technology behind the automotive industry. So we’ve invited Elektrobit to be with us today and we have with us Walter Sullivan. We’re gonna talk about what you’re doing, in fact, you’re involved with some of the Mercedes vehicles right now and where the industry frankly is going. Walter welcome!                               

Walter Sullivan: Thank you. Thanks Craig! Yeah, so Elektrobit works with Mercedes today.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: We run what we call a software factory for them. We build and integrate all of their driver assistance software.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: So the things like their distronic cruise control over their lane departure systems and these kinds of things…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Elektrobit does with Mercedes. Uh, but we do also a lot of work with Audi, with Ford, with BMW.

Craig: Uh huh. Well…

Walter: So a lot of companies in the industry.

Craig:  I saw their, BMW has, what car is it there? The I3, I think it is.

Walter: The I3 and the I8, they have both outside, yeah.

Craig: And you can’t crash the damn thing!

Walter: Right! Exactly! 

Craig: You know.

Walter: That’s the, that’s the new thing, right? We wanna keep people from getting injured in crashes and reducing their repair bills and…

Craig: Right.

Walter: Making a safer environment for them.

Craig: Right. How far out you think it is before we have quite a few of these automatically driving vehicles? Obviously the next step, I think, is what we’re seeing with the BMW I3, which is it’s, it’s really trying to take care, making sure you don’t get into an accident. And we got to take baby steps frankly on this.

Walter:  Yeah, it’s… it will be a phased approach. I always tell people that over the next, I don’t know, 10 or 15 years, the technologies that are required for an autonomous car will be slowly introduced.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: So, Cadillac has talked about their Super Cruise or…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: The lane, the systems that keep your car within a lane and as those continue to get introduced at some point, maybe 15 or 20 years…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: The car will just drive itself. It will almost seem normal to you.

Craig: Right.

Walter: Today it seems a little bit science fiction.

Craig: Yeah it does.

Walter: But it will almost seem normal to you at that point.

Craig: It’s gonna, it’s gonna be different.

Walter: Yeah.

Craig: Well, the good news is I’ll be old enough at that point. I’ll enjoy being chauffeured around.

Walter: This is what the joke I always say. I want the autonomous car to come just in time when I shouldn’t be driving myself anymore.

Craig: Anymore, exactly! But that way you can still get around.

Walter: Exactly. Yeah, yup.

Craig: Well there have been some amazing studies with what Google has done,   for instance, with some of their self-driving cars

Walter: Yeah.

Craig: And it looks like it’s gonna be safer. I always get worried. I hate flyby wire systems.

Walter: Right.

Craig: You know. I’m an old-fashioned guy, right? I drive a 1980 Mercedes diesel ok?

Walter: (Laughs)

Craig: I like mechanical linkages. But what you’re doing, Elektrobit, is making sure that there are redundant systems…

Walter: Yup.

Craig: That everything is being monitored properly so that you don’t have the sorts of problems I think many people worry about.

Walter: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, uhm. So my car is from ’99 so it’s not, not much different. But it’s true, I mean, as we, as we integrate more software and more control systems, uhm, they… despite people’s perception, they are, in fact, safer and more reliable than human reactions…

Craig: Right.

Walter: And human reflexes and human perception.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: And so, the cars will…

Craig: Good point.

Walter: Will simply become safer…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: I mean that’ll be a part of it. But for companies like Elektrobit, we have to make sure that we have the redundancy, that we have the security, that we have the robustness built into the software and into the electronics.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: So that those systems really are of… I’ll say, fail safe. But so that they really are safe.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: And there are a number of techniques and technologies and a lot of research going into that to make sure that we can make those systems.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: And I think, in 15 years, that’s not a discussion we’ll have. My belief is that’s not a discussion we’ll have.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: That’s a discussion that we have from our perspective…

Craig: Right.

Walter: Of the last 20 years of computers, right? But that’s not the discussion that we’ll have in 15 years.

Craig: What we know, over the next 10 or 15 years, is computers will be much more powerful…

Walter: Yeah.

Craig: Way more interconnected…

Walter: Yeah.

Craig: And more reliable.

Walter: Yeah.

Craig: And as such, of course, being the mechanism, the fuel behind these autonomous vehicles. It’s really gonna be a big difference.

Walter: I think so.

Craig: Yeah.

Walter: I think so. Yeah, I think so. I mean we’re getting better and more advanced with the sensors that are being used to, to, to…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Detect the roads and pedestrians and passengers, but…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: I mean just, I mean, imagine a car that is almost impossible to crash.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: And that’s, you know, that’s kind of the future we’re heading towards in.

Craig: Yeah.

Walter: That’s not a bad place to be. Honestly.

Craig: So does that mean they’re gonna kick me and my 1980 Mercedes diesel off the road?

Walter: (Laughing) No.

Craig: (Laughs)    

 Walter: But the…

Craig: They work together?

Walter: Yeah. Well, your car won’t work necessarily together with it, but the other cars will know your car.

Craig: Stay away. (Laughing)

Walter: Yeah, and it will see it, but it will know because it can’t communicate with it. That it doesn’t have these other safety systems in it.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: So, it can compensate, so…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: We should be able to, to live with both…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Eras or generations of vehicles on the road, yeah…

Craig: Of vehicles…Well, let’s talk about what you’ve done here real quickly. The Mercedes… You’re doing some things on the E400, Volkswagen Golf.

Walter: Yeah, we’re, so we’re here talking about a couple of things. Uhm, we have, uhm, two vehicles on display here…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Which are the new E-Golf from Volkswagen.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Uh, Elektrobit does the navigation system and we do the software that the charging system was built with.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Uh, and then we have the new Mercedes E400 Coupe.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Which is a car that has all of our driver assistance technologies that we’ve integrated for Mercedes.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Uhm, uh, in that car.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: And then the third thing that we’re really talking about here is that Elektrobit is opening up a new innovation lab down in California.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Which I’m, that I’m gonna be the head of…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: So I’ve recently joined to lead that effort.

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: Uh, what we’re gonna do a bunch of new work and research into some of these advance systems that we’ll need for, for highly automated or autonomous…

Craig: Uh huh.

Walter: … driving.

Craig: Well make sure you keep us updated on that.

Walter: I will do.

Craig: Because I’d love to have you back on.

Walter: Thank you. I will do for sure.

Craig: Because this is something that affects everybody’s life… and yeah, I’m a bit of a motorhead I guess.

Walter: I think we all are.

Craig: Yeah, as time goes on… as well as a techhead…

Walter: Yes.                                                                                                                                

Craig: And nowadays the two are merging.

Walter: They are very close together.

Craig: Walter, anything else you’d like to add?

Walter: No. Come see us at

Craig: Alright, there is the website. Elektrobit is spelled E-L-E-K-T-R-O-B-I-T.

Walter: That’s correct.

Craig: I have to check my notes here…. Thanks for being with us.

Walter: Thank you. Thanks.