If You Love Cars, You Want His Job
Brian Greaves grew up in Detroit's car culture. He went to work for a local automaker.
Then, four years ago, we lured him away – from his hometown, but not from the cars he loves.
Brian leads all new products developed on the Drive Platform and manages our AT&T Drive Studio in Atlanta.
Brian's team focuses on research and development of new technologies and services that make connected-car driving safer, more secure and more convenient for passengers.
Today, AT&T provides technology to leading automakers such as GM, BMW, Ford, Nissan, Tesla, Audi, Volvo and Subaru. This year, nearly half of the newly connected U.S. passenger vehicles will be added to our network. In the last quarter of 2014, we added 800,000 cars.
Brian talked recently about his lifelong love of cars, moving across the country – in his car – and the sci-fi-like potential of connected cars.
Some employees say they have been waiting for connected cars since "The Jetsons" was on television. Do you see excitement like this every day?
Yes, but we have just begun to scratch the surface of what can be done behind the wheel of a connected car. Customers in connected cars today have an experience similar to being on plain cellphones. With the recent growth in data-rich integrated services, customers will soon have an experience more like being on smartphones.
What will connected cars be like in 2020?
I think we will see some forms of semi-autonomous vehicles. So you'll be able to get on the highway and just relax while your car responds to the environment and its surroundings. Technologically, we are not that far from fully autonomous vehicles, where cars will be able to drive themselves. Imagine when you will have the ability to send your car to the grocery store or dry cleaners to pick up everything.
Vehicles also will be able speak with one another to avoid collisions and adjust to traffic patterns. If another car is coming around the corner, your vehicle will automatically brake for you to avoid accidents. The technology is there and will be rolling out shortly.
We've heard concerns about privacy issues and cars being hacked. Should we be worried?
Right now, there is more concern out there than there probably should be. We have a whole team working with all vendor partners to make sure we protect both the security and privacy of our customers behind the wheel.
AT&T, as well as the automotive manufacturers, takes the privacy concerns as top-of-mind in everything we do. It is no different from how we protect the privacy of our smartphone users.
A blog writer recently took a six-week spin in a 2015 Audi A3, the first 4G LTE car in the U.S. market. It was connected to AT&T's network. The blogger concluded that a connected car really is a smarter car. Is that true?
A connected car absolutely is a smarter car. It's no different than a laptop that is connected or not connected. You can get so much more information about your drive, or your commute, that makes it much more safe, convenient, relevant – and better overall for the customer.
You're from Detroit. Were you born with a love of cars?
You kind of have to be. There are so many things in and around Detroit that are centered on cars. And most people have family members who work for the Big Three. I was born into a Ford family. My grandfather retired from Ford Motor Company after about 40 years.
I grew up loving cars and all kinds of gadgets. Now I love my job. I love coming in to work every day and working with an all-star team of passionate, dedicated individuals who have a similar vision and interest.
How did you get into the car business?
Connected cars are part of the Internet of Things, a major trend powering our journey to Vision 2020. Our goal is to deliver a future transformed by our high-speed, mobile and video-centric network.
I actually began working as a college intern at the largest telematics company out of Detroit. ("Telematics" is an industry term for the transfer of vehicle data to and from the vehicle. The modern term is the connected car.) And it was a heck of an opportunity. Following graduation, they asked me back in a full-time role.
What kind of work did you do in Detroit?
I supported the launches of new products, everything from turn-by-turn navigation to newly launched safety and security services like stolen vehicle slowdown. If the car is stolen and the police are behind the car, we are able to basically kill the throttle so that the vehicle comes to a halt and law enforcement can arrest the thief.
How did you find your job at AT&T?
I was looking and they were looking. The stars seemed to align. I liked Detroit and I liked my job, but it was a really gray time in the automotive industry.
When I met with Cameron Coursey, now AT&T's vice president of Internet of Things, he said, "Our leadership is 100 percent behind this. We will do whatever it takes to succeed."
He convinced me to come over. I kind of took a leap of faith. It was an opportunity to do something different. And make a difference. So I packed up my car and headed down South.
I was happy to stay in Detroit. I love the people, the blue-collar attitude, and am a huge Lions, Pistons and, of course, Red Wings fan. Those are my teams, it's my town and where my roots are.
But I am starting to love Georgia – and, of course, the weather. Also, my fiancé, who's from Virginia, just completed her medical residency. She joined an ob-gyn practice in Atlanta where she is very happy, so it looks like we will be staying here.
What was your first impression of AT&T?
I came into the room and they said, "We are going to show you the automotive team" and there were five people. Tops. I was like: "Where is the rest of the team?" But that was it.
Connected cars represent a billion-dollar business opportunity for AT&T. And it's already paying off.
"We posted 1.9 million total wireless net adds, led by gains in tablets and connected cars," AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson wrote in last year's fourth-quarter letter.
When I started, Emerging Devices focused on tablets, gaming devices and e-readers. Now we have kind of pivoted and most of Emerging Devices – which is now called Internet of Things – is focused on connected cars. We have to be up to about 50 or 60 people working on automotive. That's collectively across business development and product development.
What did you do first?
I worked on this huge, 100-page deck. I basically started writing everything you could do in the telematics/connected car space. We pulled from this to actually go in and talk to manufacturers.
Did you help create the Drive Studio, AT&T's new connected car headquarters?
I helped with the design, layout, location, everything down to the color of the chairs. My team was also important in understanding the tools we needed. For instance, if you run a car in one of the bays, you need to make sure a vehicle exhaust removal system is hooked up to the vehicle's exhaust to pull the carbon monoxide out of there.
How often do you have visitors?
We opened Jan. 16 (in 2014) and we had over 3,300 visitors and just over 500 events. That includes various car manufacturers and tier-one suppliers, as well as community outreach to the Boy Scouts of America, for example.
What is the most interesting thing in the works at the Drive Studio now?
We recently built a huge wall that replicates a Digital Life home. And we tied that to a "connected car" – which is basically a fake car that you can sit in. Through this application, you can say: "turn my home lights on" and "open my garage door" and you can literally look to the side and see the garage door open and the lights turn on.
We've also recently built multimode navigation. So, if you were planning to meet up at a tailgate event, you could navigate to the university and park in some big giant parking deck three blocks down from your friend. Then, when you get out of the car, the navigation will then transfer over to a wearable device. You will be able to walk right to the tailgate and meet exactly where your friends are.
What's in this for the auto manufacturers?
Cars have become a commodity where quality has improved greatly over the last 10 years. So if I am an automaker, how do I differentiate and get new customers to buy my car, instead of the other guys'? If you watch any commercial on TV today, their focus is around infotainment, connected-car services – and fuel economy.
Will you buy your next car based on its connected car abilities?
It will play a huge role in my purchasing decision. There are obviously other things that have to be taken into account: style, safety, fuel efficiency. I might have a family by then. My boss jokes that my next car is going to be a minivan.
Are you interested in all kinds of transportation?
Yes, things that go fast – sports cars, fast boats. I have a performance boat that I have out on Lake Lanier in Georgia and I still have snowmobiles up in Michigan that I hit the trails with. I love working on and enjoying all kinds of vehicles.
Since cars have become your work, do you still enjoy driving?
Yes, I love driving. I'm passionate about my car. Heck, I even like washing my car.
Learn more about AT&T and Connected Car in our 2014 Annual Report.