Mario Andretti is considered one of the greatest racecar drivers in history. Recently he happened to be chatting with Ed Bernardon of Bedford, who asked him about the impact of technology on driving. “The more tools you have, the more you are expected to do,” replied Andretti, who retired from motor sports in 1994. “The champions of today would have been champions of the past, and vice versa.”
For Bernardon, an executive and entrepreneur, the conversation was memorable, but not unique. For more than three years, he has hosted the Future Car Podcast, sponsored by his employer, the multinational corporation Siemens. “Life Lessons with Mario Andretti” was just one episode.
According to Siemens, “We interview industry leaders creating our transportation future to inform our listeners in an entertaining way about the evolving mobility landscape and the people that are helping us realize it.”
“I think people are interested in technology, but they want to understand it in a fun way,” Bernardon said, explaining his approach. “Knowing what question to ask is really important, and sometimes the simplest questions are the best.”
Bernardon is vice president for strategic automotive initiatives at Siemens PLM Software. His responsibilities include strategic planning and business development in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles in urban and racing environments, lightweight automotive structures and interiors, as well as publishing articles and development of cross divisional projects related to advanced vehicle technology.
A few years ago, he started writing a blog, “and I would interview people after acquisitions to get to know new companies. I was the kind of guy who had good conversations and asked good questions.” Maybe that’s why “a few years ago, Siemens asked me if I wanted to do a podcast on the future of transportation and mobility.”
“Over time, it has grown,” he said. “We put something out every two weeks with a new guest, but now we’re trying some different types of content and we try to do one every week.”
He looks for “people with really interesting careers.” Some recent examples: “Uncovering Human-Centered Design with Harry West,” inventor of the Swiffer; “Our Robotic Future with Marc Theerman,” CEO of Boston Dynamics, designer of humanoid robots; and “Autonomous Electric Tractors for Sustainable, Affordable Farming,” with Carlo Mondavi, grandson of winemaker Robert Mondavi.
Last year, he had the opportunity to meet Andretti, who is 83, at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin. Through Andretti’s publicist, “I asked for him to join me on my podcast.”
Bernardon’s affection for auto racing is figuratively in his DNA. He grew up in Indianapolis, home of the speedway that calls itself “the racing capital of the world.” Andretti, he said, was “a hero in our family,” whose roots are in the same region of Italy as Bernardon’s immigrant parents.”
After receiving his master’s degree in engineering from MIT, Bernardon went to work at Draper Labs, where he directed the Automation and Design Technology Group. “My specialty was controls and robotics, and the first thing I did there was with a group that developed robots to make clothes.”
“We developed expertise on handling flexible materials with robots, and then we figured out we could apply this to advanced materials like carbon fiber.” A subsequent software product was the basis for a new company, Vistagy, which Bernardon and three colleagues established. “We got to know many of the Formula One racing teams because they would buy our software. It grew to about 80 people, and we were acquired by Siemens in 2011.”
“Siemens is such a diverse company, and they have allowed me to get involved in a lot of special projects, especially those that bring together different divisions,” Bernardon reported. “We started a project with the FIA, the governing body for world motor sports. We put sensors from autonomous cars into the rally cars and would use them to detect where spectators were in dangerous places and get someone in there to pull them out.”
Working from a studio at home, Bernardon interviews his subjects by computer. He sounds consistently engaged, explaining, “I think being interested in the person you are talking to is important. And then that passion and excitement come out naturally.”
The 90-minute interview is scaled back to 30 to 45 minutes, Bernardon said; his wife Anne Marie handles the editing. “But the amount of time you put into research about the person takes more time, and that generates the questions.” Siemens staff help with promotion.
“You’re always a little nervous at first when you interview someone famous,” Bernardon said. He relaxed a little with Andretti when he realized “his accent and mannerisms reminded me of my dad.”
Bernardon says he will keep podcasting indefinitely. “I haven’t had too much trouble finding guests,” he said. “a lot of these people have public relations agencies and I’ll get calls. Once you start to do this, you build a little momentum.” He added, “What a great way to have a conversation with someone.”
The podcasts are accessible through https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/podcasts/category/the-future-car/ed-bernardon or from commercial podcast platforms.