MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Cat Zakrzewski, a tech policy reporter here at the Post. Thanks for joining us today for our ongoing series, “The Path Forward.”

Today we are looking at transportation and innovation. My guests today are JoeBen Bevirt, founder and CEO of Joby Aviation, and also Reid Hoffman, whom many of you know as the co-founder of LinkedIn. He is also co-director at Reinvent Technology Partners.

Reid, JoeBen, welcome to Washington Post Live.

MR. HOFFMAN: Great to be here.

MR. BEVIRT: Thank you so much.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: Well, thank you.

And, JoeBen, I want to direct this first question at you. You're standing in front of one of your air taxis. Can you tell us a little bit more about this technology, and for many of our viewers who might be wondering at home, how is this different from a chopper?

MR. BEVIRT: Thank you so much. It's really a pleasure to be with you.

So this is a really incredible new age in aviation, and it's enabled by electric propulsion, and electric propulsion has allowed us to fundamentally rethink the way we design aircraft and to deliver on three transformative new areas. One is safety, the second is acoustics, and the third is the operating economics. And we believe that by making substantial improvements across these three areas, we can make air taxis as common as automobiles are today.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And so tell me a little bit more about how this would work. Where would these air taxis initially be taking people?

MR. BEVIRT: That's a fantastic question. So, as I mentioned, acoustics are fundamental to this, and the reason acoustics--or the unlock is that it enables us to take off and land close to where people live and close to where they want to go.

And this morning was actually a really, really exciting day because for the first time we measured the head-to-head acoustics profile of our aircraft compared to a number of other comparable aircraft, and the difference was dramatic. It's a total game changer, both in the absolute noise level but also the quality of that noise, and so just to dig into that a little bit, airplanes make a buzzing noise, and helicopters make a "whop-whop," and those--the character of that noise has a massive footprint, and it travels for long distance and it--in the case of the low frequency of helicopter penetrates buildings.

The piece that's so transformative about what we've been able to accomplish is that we have a noise profile that's a "whoosh" that sounds more like the wind or the ocean.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: So what does that mean for passengers and people living in cities? Would these be able to potentially fly places where helicopters and planes can't today?

MR. BEVIRT: Yes, that's exactly right. So we see a future where we can turn streets into parks and cafés, and we can make our living environment a much more friendly place to be rather than being paved over with parking lots.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And so, Reid, tell me a little bit more about the vision here. What do you see as the potential early market for these air taxis?

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, the potential market is--you know, is huge. One can show multiple models, but when you're redefining human transportation within cities and between cities, it's a fundamental part of human life. It's part of your commute and work. It's part of going and seeing your family and relatives. It's a question of where you live and where you live relative to work, and all of these things in this redefinition, just like the definition to cars and from horses and so forth, allows a reconfiguration of space.

Just like JoeBen was speaking about, like, you say, well, okay, currently it's this grid of streets that can get into gridlock and traffic, whereas you have this kind of entire three-dimensional space that can redefine it. So, as opposed to, for example, having a bridge that causes a two-hour bottleneck, you're just flying alongside the bridge, over the bridge and so forth, and so the size of the market is huge, especially as you begin to get to--this is one of the things that the--kind of the sharing economy.

So Joby is somewhat like Uber meets Tesla in the air, and so you have this kind of sharing economy that makes it much more affordable, makes it much more active, and then in that arena can redefine transport for where you live and where you work for everyone.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And you mentioned affordability. When you start giving rides to the public in 2024, how much would an average ride cost?

MR. BEVIRT: That's a fantastic question. Thank you. And this is, again, so central to the vision that I founded this company with, and it was that in order for this to be a--to have a really meaningful impact, it had to be something that was accessible from an economic perspective to everyone to use every day. And our initial price point will be comparable to the cost of a taxi or an Uber, but our target is to move quickly down to the cost of what it costs you to drive your own car. And that is--we believe that's the critical unlock to making this transformative for the world and for people's daily lives.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: So, I mean, can you put a dollar figure on that? Would it be like $5 a ride?

MR. BEVIRT: So, initially--so my Prius costs me about 50 cents a passenger mile. My Tesla costs me about $2 a mile, and an Uber or taxi costs $3 to $5 a mile. Last time I was in Washington, D.C., I took a scooter, and it was, I think, about $3 a mile. So our goal is to launch the service at an average price of around $3 a mile and to move that down below a dollar a mile over time.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And so, JoeBen, there have been a lot of companies approaching this issue of transportation and even some other companies in the air taxi space. How is your approach different than other competitors in the market?

MR. BEVIRT: It's a fantastic question. So, when I founded this industry back in 2009, my thesis was that, again, with electric propulsion, we could build aircraft that were substantially safer, substantially quieter, and substantially more affordable, and there were many people that were skeptical that we could deliver that kind of performance with batteries. And what we've now demonstrated is that we can--with the aircraft behind me, we have an aircraft that is, again, safe. It is incredibly quiet, and it is--our service will make it affordable to be used by people for everyday flights.

And we're just thrilled with the progress we've made. We have a spectacular team, and we are working daily through the process of certifying this aircraft with the FAA and also ramping up our manufacturing capabilities.

And I might want to touch a little bit on the certification. This is a process where we can demonstrate both to ourselves and to the world that this aircraft is safe enough, safe enough for all of us to use every day, and that's--we're very grateful to all of the aviation pioneers through history for the really fundamental work that they've done to build the aviation safety system that we get to utilize.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And I want to come back to--

MR. HOFFMAN: I'd love to add in a little--

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: Oh, sorry. Go ahead, Reid.

MR. HOFFMAN: If you don't mind, I'd love to add in a little bit to JoeBen's answer because one of the amazing things I've learned from him is, like, part of the reason he's standing in front of the vehicle is we did this video where it was actually taking off and you could still hear him. So the sound is really important because it's part of what allows the things to be in the cities.

And the next thing is there's something for everyone. It's not a new helicopter for just, you know, wealthy people to fly around, but part of that is the reason why the model of integrating, you know, that Uber meets Tesla for the air, it's the reason why the acquisition of Uber Elevate, the integration with Uber in terms of making this work. For anyone who can take an Uber, they could also take a Joby. And partnering with, you know, kind of the mass market manufacturers like Toyota in order to make this a revolution and transportation for everyone.

And these attributes--because, you know, everyone goes, okay, the very first thing has to be safety and has to be safety, safety, safety, safety. Everybody gets that. But JoeBen's leadership in this also was like, well, actually, it will only really work if it's quiet enough to be integrated into daily life, and it will have to be very much for everybody; hence, you know, kind of like let's utilize the sharing economy. Let's utilize, you know, kind of manufacturing a large number of them with partners like Toyota, and part of the belief that we have in Joby when we did our due diligence around the entire field is we saw that they had been working on this for years. They had thought about all these considerations. They had locked in the kind of key partnerships and the kind of how to manufacture these vehicles, and that's actually, in fact, part of the landscape of why we have such belief in Joby kind of redefining this, the third dimension of human transportation.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And a couple times throughout this conversation, you've compared it to the ride-sharing economy and companies like Tesla, but, you know, Uber and Lyft, they were using cars already on the road. For this technology, you need new infrastructure, and by that, I mean vertiports. And so can you tell me a little bit about where the process stands, what your negotiations look like with cities right now to build the vertiports that you would need for these aircraft to actually function in cities?

MR. BEVIRT: Yeah. It's a fantastic question. Thank you. So the engagement from cities around the U.S. and around the world has been fantastic. The communities see this new mode of transportation as a massive tool to improve productivity.

I think we've seen that cities are more and more competing with one another for citizens, and that people want to go to the places that have the highest quality of life. And we see that air taxis are one of the unlocks for the next generation of transportation and really improving people's quality of lives, and so we see cities really leaning in, and we're really excited to be engaged in bringing this exciting new mode of transportation to people around the world and around the country.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And you've mentioned 2024 as the goal for a public launch. Do you have a sense of which cities you might be first launching in, given those conversations?

MR. BEVIRT: We have not yet announced our launch cities, but we have shown a number of different markets that we are doing really deep diligence with. And then there are many additional markets that we're also very, very excited about and we expect to roll out over the next--over the first few years of service.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And as we're doing this due diligence, obviously, the future of transportation is a big focus in Washington right now. Have either of you been in conversation at all with lawmakers amid the ongoing infrastructure talks?

MR. BEVIRT: We see--

MR. HOFFMAN: I have not, but maybe JoeBen has.

MR. BEVIRT: Yeah. We see that there is--as an incredible opportunity, as you spoke of, for our country to really embrace this next age of transportation, and with things like the infrastructure bill, there's a lot of momentum towards looking at ways to incorporate these transformational new technologies and to help communities to fund the analysis of what an air taxi network would look like in their city.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And on that point of what it would look like--

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, and if you can--

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: --do you mind sharing a little bit more about why you need vertiports, why these can't land on existing helicopter pads or in parking lots that might already be in cities?

MR. BEVIRT: Yeah. So we can absolutely land on existing infrastructure. The key piece is, again, that we need to ensure that--ensure safety is our top priority, and so we do want a space which is, you know--we don't--I'm sorry. So we want to make sure that they are fully permitted skyport locations.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And I want to understand a little bit more about how the aircraft actually takes off and lands because I know that occurs vertically. Can you talk a little bit more about that process and how it works?

MR. BEVIRT: Yeah. So, again, thank you so much. The electric propulsion is really spectacular because electric motors can deliver power that's torque and speed, almost instantaneously, and that allows, in contrast to a piston engine or a turbine engine, on a helicopter which needs to spool up for several minutes before taking off, our motors can spool up almost instantaneously.

In addition, our electric motors, we eliminate the noise. So, on a helicopter, you have both the noise from the engine or the turbine, and then you also have the noise from the blades. And so we've eliminated one of those noise sources, and then the second noise source, the blades, we're able to really carefully design the blades of the propellors and also design the overall aircraft architecture to reduce the noise level to something where this aircraft can take off and the--and for me to continue to have this conversation with you. So it's really transformative and a pivotal unlock to this new industry.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And, Reid, on that point, given that promise, how do you think this will affect the way cities might be planned moving forward?

MR. HOFFMAN: So, look, the transportation grids, just like energy grids and everything else, are central to how you think of it, and as JoeBen mentioned earlier, we have, for example, currently a lot of space dedicated to roads, parking lots, other kinds of things. And you can actually, in fact, redefine that. You can actually even redefine some of the existing, whether or not the streets would be turned into pedestrian malls, cafés, other kinds of things as a way of doing it because you can bring to and from. Wherein, you know, we've all kind of experienced the pandemic in the last 18 months-plus, and part of us say, well, actually, in fact, I'd like to live in a house with a yard and ability to kind of get outside some, have my kids play outside. Well, you could redefine space from that as well in terms of what the space and the size of the city looks like.

And given that you have the sharing economy allows kind of a full utilization because part of what the sharing economy does is say, well, as long as you're not waiting longer than, you know, kind of three minutes or so to make something happen, obviously, at the endpoints is where Uber and other kinds of sharing car things can tie in, then that makes it all much more workable. And that's part of, I think, where you begin to see how cities can be redefined in ways that is healthier not just, obviously, for their lifestyle but also for the climate.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And I wanted to turn broadly to the topic of the future of the tech industry. You know, in my line of work, in tech policy reporting, we've seen a major reckoning going on recently with scrutiny of the tech giants. Reid, how do you view the recent scrutiny of these blind spots and pitfalls, and what do you think needs to be done to fix it?

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, so I think the key thing is to think about--like, when we think about how much amazing American innovation we have going on--so there's obviously things like Joby which are leading the way in the eVTOL and are creating a vehicle that, you know, could be a canonical example of American innovation.

I think, also, when we see a bunch of these tech giants, a lot of things that they're doing, like, for example, why is the U.S., you know, kind of leading the field in artificial intelligence and it's because folks like Microsoft and Alphabet and Facebook and Amazon are all investing in it. I think the cloud infrastructure in terms of what the change in computing is also similar.

So the key question is, how do you make these innovations good for the broad society? So, if you say, well, we have a worry about kind of what's happening with data. Okay. So what's the right way to set that? I think that's usually a public-private partnership. I think a lot of the kind of "too big" is actually a wrong path, and part of that is because we have tons of startups. We're going from five big tech companies to a hundred tech companies. We have amazing startups like Joby and others that are all succeeding. So I don't think it's we have too many, too big companies. I think what we need to be doing is the action of the company is benefiting the American people more broadly and also the world more broadly. So it's kind of the question of how do you have these technologies, you know, for example, helping the middle class get a raise.

And, for example, one of the things that I have contended in a number of environments is if you would like a return of a manufacturing industry to the U.S., that's--you better hope that we're leading artificial intelligence and robotics, and that's part of having--the way that's happening currently is through these tech companies investing, each of them, billions of dollars a year, individually competing with each other in order to make that happen. I think that's the kind of thing that's how do we have it help us and steer it towards the outcomes that we want to see, the positive outcomes, and away from less positive outcomes.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And on that topic of bigness, Reid, I wanted to ask, what do you think of the recent moves that the Biden administration has made on competition and the action in Congress? It seems that there's growing pressure to break up big tech companies like Google and Amazon. Do you agree with that?

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, fundamentally, no. I think that the--I don't agree, and I think the reason is just as I was describing is that the key thing is to say, well, what do we have? We have these large companies that are investing billions and billions of dollars in new technologies. So it's new technologies in the cloud, new technologies in health, new technologies in, you know, kind of artificial intelligence. I mean, part of the whole revolution for heading towards autonomous vehicles came from a project that Google was investing in for a number of years as a way of driving these, and the outcomes that people are hoping for in the antitrust outcomes won't happen. So you say, well, if we do a breakup, we'll have better privacy. Well, that's actually almost certainly not the case. If you want better privacy, you actually need to have a larger enough scale company that can invest in the kind of privacy that you think we should have versus a number of small companies competing with each other.

If you want major innovations in robotics, you need to have companies that can make that investment in that innovation in order to make it happen, and so I think that the notion of, oh, you know, we should be breaking up these companies is bad from an innovation standpoint and from a benefit-to-society standpoint. I think it's also, of course, once you go global, it becomes much more challenging because, you know, you say, well, we have a tech giant, and maybe we should break it up. It's like, well, but that's not what the, for example, Chinese are going to do, and so you say, well, you know, where would you like the autonomous vehicles technology coming from, or where would you like--who would you like to have leadership in artificial intelligence and then the investing in the--you know, generally speaking, like, 5-plus-billion and sometimes $10 billion a year in these technologies. Well, it's the large-scale companies that can do this, and so that's part of the reason why I'm like shape and make it as good outcomes for society but not an antitrust action.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And, JoeBen, I want to bring you into this. As an entrepreneur, do you worry about a large tech giant coming in and competing with you in the air taxi space?

MR. BEVIRT: We're very excited about this market as a whole and the positive impact that it can have on the world or on people's lives and on the productivity of our communities, and so we do believe that there will be more and more new entrants coming into this industry. And we welcome that. We think it will be a good thing.

We feel really, really good about the technology we've developed and about what we've been able to demonstrate and about the network that we're beginning to build. So we feel wonderful there.

And then there's one other area I'd like to really touch on that I didn't get to emphasize enough earlier which is sustainability. This is something that is very near and dear to my heart, and one of the things that's a game changer with electric propulsion, it allows us to build aircraft that are zero emissions. And our goal is to apply this technology to a whole range of different aircraft missions over time and to extend what--extend the capabilities of the aircraft that you see behind me to serve a larger and larger swath of missions to make all of those zero emissions, and that, we believe, will be really, really important.

Today aviation CO2 emissions represent about 3 percent of total global CO2 emissions, but because air travel is growing so quickly, it's expected to triple in the coming years. And, in addition, CO2 emissions are only about a third of aviation's total emissions. So, if you look at all of the emissions, all of the climate change that's driven by aviation, CO2 is just a small piece, and so it's really essential that as a community and as engineers that we develop the aircraft that will make aviation a zero-emissions industry. And that's core to our mission.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: And thinking about that role of the tech industry and society, Reid, we're running out of time, so I just want to direct this last question at you. We've talked a little bit in this last part about the state of the tech industry, and I just wanted to ask you, what steps do you think tech leaders like yourself need to make in order to rebuild trust?

MR. HOFFMAN: Well, so I think part of how trust comes is through transparency and openness in communication. What are we building to? What are we doing? How do we view that we are playing a positive role? And then also listening, so to be able to hear, okay, what are the issues that people are running into that are things that we can either modify or help with as part of it. And so part of--I think that the--kind of the key thing here is for us to say here is where we're going, this is what we're doing, and this is why we think it's good for you, and we're listening to modify that relative to what the concerns and needs are.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: Well, we're going to have to leave it there. That's all the time that we have today. JoeBen and Reid, thank you so much for joining us.

MR. HOFFMAN: Thank you.

MR. BEVIRT: Thank you. Have an amazing day.

MS. ZAKRZEWSKI: You too.

And I’m Cat Zakrzewski. As always, thanks for watching. To check out what interviews we have coming up, please head to WashingtonPostLive.com to register and find more information about all our upcoming programs. Thanks for tuning in.

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