AEye Team Profile: Jim Robnett

On June 5th, AEye’s VP of Automotive Business Development, Jim Robnett, will give a Keynote Address entitled “Brains vs. Brawn: The Quest for Artificial Perception” at TU-Automotive Detroit.

Jim RobnettA 25-year automotive veteran, Jim Robnett is charged with building AEye’s partnerships with leading OEMs and Tier 1s. Robnett is a proven executive and technology leader with a strong track record of driving product innovation, development, and revenue across automotive and industrial markets. Prior to joining AEye, he was VP of Strategic Partnerships for Luminar. He has also held executive leadership positions at NNG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, HERE, SiriusXM, and Denso. Robnett earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan, and his MBA from Michigan State University.

We sat down with Jim to learn more about what sparked his interest in autonomous vehicles, the burgeoning relationship between Detroit and Silicon Valley, and his all time favorite musician.

Q: You have extensive experience in the automotive industry. What was it about autonomous vehicles (AVs) that shifted your interest and drew you into this space?

For the last 10-15 years, I worked in the infotainment sector of the automotive industry. This included anything from maps and navigation, telematics, connected services, traffic, etc. Going back 5-10 years ago, there was a lot of innovation in that space. The innovation continues today, but at a much slower rate, and that’s because now, the main source of infotainment in the car comes from the cell phone. So, the main source of infotainment innovation in the automotive industry is focused on incorporating the cell phone into the vehicle. This will change with better embedded connectivity in the vehicle, but this is the current trend.

At the same time that the infotainment sector was slowing down, ADAS, advanced safety and autonomous vehicle innovation was picking up. Having grown up in Detroit, witnessing my dad’s 30 year career at GM, I wanted to continue to be a part of the incredible legacy of innovation in the automotive industry. Advanced ADAS solutions and, eventually, fully autonomous vehicles, will be the most important transportation technology innovation event in my lifetime – and I knew that I needed to be a part of it.

Q: How have you seen the Detroit automotive culture interact with Silicon Valley technology culture? Do you view it as more of a collision or a co-mingling?

It’s interesting to see the mix of cultures, because I spend half of my time in each. There is a definite merging and the two co-exist, but there is a sense of friction, still.

I consider myself, and my role, as a bridge between the two cultures, especially since I grew up in the automotive industry, but feel very comfortable in the emerging technology space.

AEye is the perfect example of a “disruptor” to the industry. Making cars is very difficult. To be successful, we have to take the best aspects of the history and experience of the Detroit culture with the innovation and velocity of change of Silicon Valley. The companies that combine these two cultures the best will not only benefit from both worlds, but and will emerge as the industry leaders.

Q: You sing and play guitar in a band – what is your favorite music genre to play? To listen to? Who is your favorite musician?

I didn’t start playing guitar until after college, but once I started, I almost immediately formed a band with some buddies. That band (in different versions) has been going strong for about 25 years. We write a lot of our own songs – I’d describe it as kind of punk/rock and roll. In terms of my own taste in music, I listen to almost everything, but I especially love the Rolling Stones. And that’s because they’ve survived after so many decades and are still rocking and innovating. Their longevity and creativity is what interests me the most. As to my favorite musician? Keith Richards is my hero.

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