Mike Jellen is the President and Chief Commercial Officer for Velodyne Lidar. His responsibilities include growth strategy, product forecasting, investor relations, partnerships, and more. Upon joining the company in May 2015, Jellen was directed by founder and CEO David Hall to meet with all of the world’s top automakers. In this inaugural installment of Reflections, Jellen sits down with the Velodyne 360 Blog to share his insights and progress.
360: Thanks for chatting today, Mike. So, what’s it like to meet with these top automakers?
Jellen: We usually meet at the garage of the OEM and take a look at the vehicles and discuss their plans. Sometimes we go for a drive. I’m there to better understand where they’re at today and their needs for the future.
360: Do they ever show you any secret concepts—like flying cars?
Jellen: Generally speaking, tech people don’t like to share secrets. We speak more about the problems they’re trying to solve. The thrust of it is, “Here is what we’re trying to do. How could we do it better?” I assimilate these various goals and points of view, from customers to investors to in-house scientists and designers, and find great win-win solutions.
360: Can you describe this assimilation process?
Jellen: First, I look at the challenges the users face. Those challenges could be time, inconvenience, productivity, cost. If [the automakers] say, “I wish we could make this driverless vehicle move faster and sense at a greater range,” then I take that objective and start diving into the how. It’s sort of a 3D management approach. At the top level, the dashboard is the high-level aspects. Then we have to dive into the lowest level of detail with breakthrough initiatives. It’s just like your car. If a warning light tells you the engine is hot, you don’t just look at the dashboard, you have to get under the hood and figure it out.
360: Have any of these breakthrough initiatives taken you in unexpected or unsuccessful directions?
Jellen: Generally, we try to fail fast. So, high iteration counts really help us find the path forward. We use a lot of mechanical design tools and leverage those with 3D printing. We design and then 3D print different housing configurations, different cabling technologies, different connectors. Some people are comfortable staying in the digital world, but it can be helpful to print it out and see. We get additional learning. We start testing things that we hadn’t thought of testing.
360: What do you foresee in the near-term for the autonomous revolution?
Jellen: Robo-taxis. If you think about autonomy in consumer cars versus automated taxis, it’s easier to improve something that already exists. There’s already a business model for it. Shuttle buses already exist. People already pay for that service. If we can make the price lower, that’s good.
360: And in the long-term? What’s the ultimate goal of the autonomous revolution?
Jellen: Well, not just for travel, or convenience, or economics, but safety. Sadly, we lose approximately 100 people a day in the US, and 500 people per day in China, due to auto accidents. 1.2 to 1.3 million people, globally, die from auto accidents every year. It’s staggering when you think about all the misery and sadness that results. We have an opportunity to apply autonomous systems to every car on the road. That’s why [Velodyne] is undertaking this dramatic roll-out. Someday, people will look back and wonder why the world didn’t mandate these systems sooner.
360: And you see these systems as being the key to saving lives on the road?
Jellen: Yes, a computer can see many times better than a person—and the computer doesn’t get distracted. Velodyne sensors create a live, 3D CAD image around the vehicle. It’s very precise technology—with state of the art electronics, algorithms, and embedded software—that must operate in perfect harmony. But I’m getting beyond myself a bit—I’m not on the science side.
360: You’re more a big picture guy than a designer, then?
Jellen: I’m relational and analytical with an innate sense of urgency. I see across issues, but my analytical side enjoys diving into the details. I’m not a designer, but my son and I did win best craftsmanship award this January at the local pinewood derby.
360: What type of car did you build?
Jellen: A standard race car. It was a triangle from the side and top down view. The challenge was getting the weight placement and canted wheels just right. But it had a nice cut to it.
To learn more about Mike Jellen and the leadership team, visit the Velodyne biography page.
Reflections is an interview series published on the Velodyne 360 Blog. Employees, partners, and customers share their views on issues relevant to lidar and related technologies. From insights into emerging applications to corporate culture to research & development, step inside the housing and learn more about the company that’s revolutionizing real-time remote sensing.