Our Aurora Voices series celebrates the people and teams whose unique experiences, backgrounds, and voices drive Aurora’s mission forward.
Meet Jason, VP of Product for Aurora Services
At Aurora, we’re not only creating the hardware and the software that drive trucks and cars, but also the tools and services that allow these vehicles to integrate with, and create tremendous value for, our customers’ businesses. Successful creation of these tools and services requires an extensive understanding of how the U.S. trucking industry works and how to create solutions that integrate seamlessly with daily operations.
Jason Leu brings a unique combination of deep expertise in the trucking industry and experience developing technology for it. As our new Vice President of Product for Aurora Services, Jason has led teams of logistics professionals to move FTL, LTL, and intermodal freight for some of the nation’s largest shippers. He has also developed fleet management technology that over 120,000 carriers rely on to improve the safety and profitability of their operations. And he has forged partnerships with leaders across the trucking industry, from OEMs to transportation management, maintenance, and insurance sectors. At Aurora, Jason will use this experience to craft a seamless and intuitive entrance for our customers into the world of self-driving trucks.
As you recently joined in July, we’d like to formally welcome you to the Aurora team! What drew you to Aurora, and what are you most excited about as you settle in?
I genuinely believe that self-driving technology has the potential to become a seismic paradigm shift in the freight industry. I previously led product management at Motive (formerly KeepTruckin), a leader in the fleet management space, so I’m well aware of the challenges that the industry faces and the technology and products Aurora is developing could bring incredible change to the industry. The company has also assembled a veritable who’s-who of experts and leaders in the autonomy space, and the technology itself is just downright amazing. I’m really thrilled to be joining the team and feel incredibly fortunate.
How would you define your role here at the company? What are you responsible for?
The team here at Aurora has spent more than six years developing the technology that allows a truck to safely and reliably drive itself. As the VP of Product for Aurora Services, my team and I are focused on helping fleets easily adopt this technology into their existing operations. For instance, customers already have their own system of technology, processes, and real estate infrastructure that they use to deliver loads for customers. Therefore, we need to make sure that they can adopt Aurora self-driving vehicles and products in a manner that’s compatible with how they are already conducting business. Unnecessary friction can be a challenge to adoption.
What do you see as some of the largest challenges trucking motor carriers face in adopting new services? How can we at Aurora help minimize these?
In an industry driven by tight deadlines, time is the most valuable asset. Once freight starts moving in the morning, carriers become extremely busy, and nearly everyone is moving between tasks for the rest of the day. Introducing new services that require time, training and adjustments to workflows can be a major challenge. Like many industries, the freight industry has significant pressure on their profit margins, so any new solution must also deliver clear value to the business.
These are areas where I think Aurora will really shine. We’re designing the Aurora Driver, and our commercial trucking product, Aurora Horizon, to fit naturally into a fleet’s existing operations. So while there will be some new concepts to learn specific to autonomous vehicles, our plan is to allow Aurora Horizon to fit naturally within a fleet’s existing trucks, drivers, and systems. And once a fleet is up and running with Aurora Horizon and with the Aurora Driver being designed to be able to run around the clock, we believe the cost benefits of the technology will become readily apparent.
How do you think about products and services that solve the needs of our customers, who are some of the largest carriers in the U.S.?
One of the challenges our customers, and the industry as a whole, really struggle with right now is the driver turnover rate. Our industry has an annual driver attrition rate of over 90%, which is staggering. Fleets have to expend extensive energy to constantly recruit new drivers. By comparison, Aurora Driver-powered trucks will always be ready, willing, and able.
Safety is also always at the top of mind for our customers. Driving a truck is a dangerous job and the safety of their personnel, trucks, and customer goods are paramount. The technology we’re building is designed first and foremost to operate safely and the Safety Case designed by the team is an incredible effort to prove out those efforts. I’m incredibly impressed by not only the technological advantages autonomous driving presents that will make it inherently safer, but also by Aurora’s overall approach to safety.
How does Aurora’s approach to service operations differ from others in the logistics and trucking industry?
When you’re pioneering a new technology like autonomous trucking, there isn’t an industry blueprint we can follow. We’re not only building the autonomous technology, but we’re also writing the playbook on how fleets will adopt this technology and integrate it into their business in a way that makes operational and economic sense for them. The company’s philosophy is to “practice as we play” and this really shines through in a number of ways. We’ve built our own fleet, staffed it with industry veterans, and are moving real goods for customers every day using our self-driving technology. Having our own fleet allows us to quickly see what works and what doesn’t. We’re compiling learnings and building up real-world experience that we hope could give our customers confidence as we begin discussions about adopting the technology and participating in our commercial launch.
In previous roles, you were on the other side, leading teams that were moving freight for customers. Can you talk about how that experience will help inform our approach to Aurora Services moving forward?
In my previous roles, I led teams responsible for moving customer freight. Through those experiences, I learned what it was like to actually transport goods from point A to point B. Trucking operations can be chaotic, unpredictable, and incredibly complex so my goal is to provide this on-the-ground perspective and help ensure our technology will work effectively and be well received by customers. Building new technology is incredibly exciting, and by keeping the customer at the center of our development, we can ensure our technology is impactful and effective in helping our customers move physical goods through the world.
Can you talk about how you and the Aurora Services are preparing for commercial launch next year? What are the team’s top priorities for the remainder of 2023?
There’s a lot of preparation taking place to say the least. One area we’re intently studying is terminal configurations to ensure optimized utilization and performance of the Aurora Driver. We’re also refining our own staffing and standard operating procedures. We’re working on onboarding processes for customers that will help ease adoption of Aurora Horizon, from how self-driving technology actually works to the personnel and processes needed for success.
And then of course, we’re building the software platform that will allow Aurora Horizon to integrate into the ecosystem of technology that fleets already use. Our customers have various systems they rely on on a daily basis, including fleet management, TMS, and maintenance systems and Aurora’s technology can lie alongside these other existing systems in a complimentary manner for the fleet.
What has inspired you throughout your career?
My perspective has really evolved as I’ve gotten older. Work takes up a good part of our lives, and I’m at the point in my career now that I’m really trying to optimize for two things: 1) Am I actually making a dent in the world? And 2) Do I enjoy who I’m working with? I’ve found that the people who tend to enjoy their jobs seem to find careers that satisfy both of those needs. I’m really glad to say that so far, Aurora’s been a resounding ‘yes’ to both of those questions.
On a lighter note, what do you like to do in your free time?
I’ve got three kids who have ridiculously busy lives, so in my downtime, I try to be present and spend as much time with them as possible. Many of my friends are also in the same life stage as me so there’s rarely a weekend where you won’t find me at a swim meet or a kid’s birthday party. My wife and I also like trying out new restaurants, and we’re doing our best to travel more.