Einride squeezes through golden sections of math and engineering constantly. To showcase the beauty of mathematics and AI, the Swedish tech company turns to composer Jacob Mühlrad and multimedia artist Alexander Wessely to depict the Pod — the first all-electric, totally autonomous transport vehicle to operate on public roads.
Moderator ROLAND-PHILIPPE KRETZSCHMAR
Round table panel members are Robert Falck, CEO, Inventor & founder Einride, Linnéa Kornehed Falck, Co-Founder of Einride, composer Jacob Mühlrad and multimedia artist Alexander Wessely.
When I received an email about this project, I was both puzzled and enthusiastic. It made me very curious to understand how this collaboration started. Let’s unbox this a bit. Maybe someone wants to take the lead and explain how this collaboration started?
Jacob: The starting point of our collaboration was, I don’t know if there is anything like absolute chance, but I and Robert met at an Irish pub for the first time. We had a great conversation there, and that was at the beginning of 2018. We had very long conversations about transfinite numbers and we discussed fractals, mathematics… nerd stuff. From that point, maybe we had a couple of nice dinners in-between, but after that, we decided to do something together.
When I met Robert and Linnéa together, I think that we found common ground in that we have a strong belief that culture, art, and art music, is a big foundation of our society. To have that capacity of creativity that Robert and Linnéa have, you need to be an artist to have that capacity.
Very interesting. Before we proceed, I have some follow-up questions on this. What was the math reference you made there?
Jacob: Transfinite numbers.
Yes. What’s that?
Jacob: It’s a number. There are different types of eternities. There are bigger and smaller eternities. For example, a number such as Pi, it’s an eternal number. It’s a number that is a proportion that is infinite. You will never reach the certain point that the number is trying to reflect.
That’s a good starting point for the rest of the conversation then. Robert, when you met them in this pub, and you got to know each other, how did you then start to elaborate a potential collaboration?
Robert: For me, it’s broken down to being able to have that creativity. I think that it’s very interesting with the starting point for the infinite numbers because the infinite numbers are close to fractals and fractals are extremely beautiful in essence. What really united us was the fascination with the beautiful things that are created in math.
That was the starting point because we started to discuss all the infinite things that connect us. That would have been the visible foundation for our whole collaboration. When I met Jacob, and it was the same thing when I met Linnéa, it was the creativity and the back to math, one plus one doesn’t become two, it becomes something more. That was why I had so much fascination to work first with Jacob and with Linnéa, and later with Alex. What really unites us is the belief that we can create beautiful things.
This connection between math and creativity, Linnéa, what is your take on that?
Linnéa: There’s an actual word for it, which doesn’t translate well to English, but if you would translate it, it would be ’engineering art’. We relate to engineering as an art form. In this collaboration is the opportunity to explore that a little further. It’s been amazing to work together with Alex and Jacob, and to visualise art with engineering behind it.
Alex, I’m also curious about your relationship to math as an artist.
Alexander: To be honest, I have no direct relationship to math, even though Jacob keeps on finding different… what was it?
Jacob: Golden sections.
”What really united us was the fascination of the beautiful things that are created in math.”
Alexander: Yeah. Golden sections. It sounds like different proportions in a lot of the works. Me, myself, I’m like the worst mathematician in the world.
That’s fine, I guess. [laughs] You can still create a lot of amazing output without being a mathematician.
Jacob: Sure. I think one of the most interesting parts, is that both me and Alex are not normally collaborating with companies. With Robert and Linnéa, and Einride, it’s something else because they are so brave in giving absolute freedom. Our first collaboration is actually a piece called Einride.
When I first heard of the company Einride, I actually really felt that they were making a difference by making transportation sustainable. I was very impressed by their autonomous software. I actually took the lead of one Lou Dar signal and converted it together with some engineers from Einride, right into binary numbers. Then I converted the binary numbers to a certain scale of the pictures. That made music material. Then I made that material into a symphony that was commissioned by the Symphony Orchestra. Actually, it was on Robert’s birthday, the 7th of February 2019, the piece had its premiere.
That’s fascinating. Robert, as a business leader and executive, I have understood only by this short conversation that you obviously have an interest and passion for arts and the creative process. How do you then translate a collaboration like this into something that affects the bottom line of a company?
Robert: It breaks down to the purpose of why you’re building a company. For me, the purpose of Einride… what we’re trying to do, is to create sustainable change. Sustainable change is about sustainable business. For me, that’s so essential. To be able to do that, you have to both create something that is uniquely interesting and believe that you are creating something that is meaningful and speaks to people. If you have the idea, conviction, and the vision to build and create, I think that you can, in this modern era, build a great company.
Sustainability in itself is quite hard for a lot of people to grasp. It’s quite an abstract topic. I’m thinking then that this collaboration, again as an outsider, is quite intellectual? Could you elaborate a little bit on your thinking around this, or are you just expecting that all the stakeholders you’re communicating with are just super smart?
Jacob: Do you mind if I take this one? I think it’s the contrary. I think people are way smarter than anyone gives them credit for. We live in the most enlightened era, and I think that the democratisation of knowledge and understanding has been one of the greatest things over the last 30 years. Everything from digitalisation and free access to information and knowledge has greatly made us smarter than we ever were. Even if the consequences sometimes are hard to comprehend… we live in a very enlightened era.
People are interested. People are smart. They are well-read. The over-simplification of communication is really something that people are turning away from. They understand that the simpler answers are not necessarily the right ones. Being able to provide and have a complex argument is compelling. It’s like art, and it’s like a lot of things we see.
A lot of the great companies that are out there, like Apple, even if at the core they seem simple, very direct, there is a lot of thought, a lot of knowledge, a lot of quite intriguing thinking behind them. That is something that also attracts a lot of people our age.
Alex, how do you then reflect these changes in society as a visual artist? Does it affect your creative process?
Alexander: It affects it quite a lot, to be honest. It’s more or less underlying. It just happens with the day-to-day affectations we get… I would say, when it comes to personal projects that I’m working on, I try to have some underlying political and environmental angles… to get that aspect of things into the works.
This is something that I didn’t do when I started out, or that I even had on my mind. That was one of the main reasons also, why this collaboration with Linnéa and Robert was very intriguing for me personally. Their whole view and Einride, bridging the gap between worlds and tech meets arts. It all felt very refreshing. That, in combination with the message behind it, felt right in these times.
Do you think it was more of an opportunity or more of a challenge to work with a commercial company in the creative process?
Alexander: Opportunity. That’s mainly because of the organic introduction I got into it from Jacob in the beginning. Jacob introduced me to Robert and Linnéa. It started out with a lot of conversations. I felt really [laughs] ”safe” going into this because of that, and their values.
”Our whole economy is built up on being able to transport.”
Jacob, as an artist and a citizen, there are obviously a lot of commercial companies trying to be front-runners in the area of sustainability. What would be your expectation from these companies, such as Einride, as role models and thought leaders? Do you have any expectations?
Jacob: Yeah, I had the privilege to get to know both Robert and Linnéa and I think we have a lot of common ground when it comes to how we see the future. How society will be shaped in the future both from a cultural perspective and from a sustainable perspective. Sometimes, when we talk, I can see how those two questions merge and are shaping into one very clear direction. They are doing something, which from the beginning people thought was impossible. Now, they are actually doing it and that’s amazing. In that sense, they are really role models in every way.
Linnéa and Robert, I’m curious about your opinion of Einride’s role in society. Could you elaborate on your vision?
Linnéa: When we founded Einride, there was still disbelief that it would be possible to grow electric when it comes to heavy-duty transport. Starting from that, and starting with zero, Einride shows how the narrative with something else is possible. People have been so extraordinary with this. We also found out that there are so many people that care very deeply about this area.
When it comes to sustainability, as a whole, of course, we’re very much into the transport industry. Looking at it from that perspective, there’s no alternative now to go back and stop doing logistics and stop using transportation. We just need to find new ways of how to make it sustainable.
It’s quite remarkable. Our whole economy is built upon being able to transport. That’s not going to just stop happening just because of sustainability goals.
What about your own value chain? There’s been a lot of criticism of electrification, that it’s not as green as you might think.
Linnéa: That comes back again to the need to be very transparent. You need to have all the facts on the table. What we always start with, when we’re working with new customers, is that we take a holistic view of their transportation network.
Then we start looking into where it wouldn’t make sense both from a cost point of view but also from a sustainability perspective, to go electric. For example, we will not suggest a customer that goes one time per month, from Malmö to the north of Sweden, to go electric, because that wouldn’t make sense, either from a sustainability point of view or from a cost point of view.
Then there are so many applications where this technology is so much greener, and also very cost-competitive. They’re the applications that we’re looking for.
”I think people are way smarter than anyone gives them credit for.”
And of course, we want to make sure that the batteries that we’re using in the energy mix are good and the minerals are not from conflict areas. We’re taking all of that into account when suggesting where to go, and where to stop going electric.
Thanks for that, Linnéa. Robert, can you build on this?
Robert: That’s a hard act to follow. I see the role of engineer and entrepreneur to present the alternative story for the future, to create what hasn’t been seen yet, and to visualise an opportunity for society — what direction to go in. A lot of that had been a little bit lost in the Swedish ecosystem, or the Swedish engineering community.
That’s what all arts are about. It’s about creating and pushing the boundaries of what is possible for humans to comprehend. Einride’s role is to visualise a different alternative of the future, what we can do to break the norms of how we see it today. If you look at what used to be, it’s so easy to see what everyone sees today.
When we started the company, everyone was saying that the future is diesel, we don’t have any alternatives. That was the truth then and everyone believed that. We’ve been hammering it, visualising, and showcasing that something else is different and possible. Something that unites all four of us is that we want to push the conception and the boundaries of what we’ve seen and understood as humans.
In that, we can visualise and create a different future. That’s what we are doing. I truly believe in such amazing work and amazing people. Linnéa, Alex and Jacob… they are true believers in breaking new ground and creating new things and telling a beautiful story of what can be.
As the last question, Scandinavian MIND is really about reflecting the unique, aerial Scandinavia in the convergence between lifestyle, technology, design, and society. When you think about a Scandinavian mindset, what’s your take on that?
Linnéa: That’s a good question. I truly believe that Scandinavians have this mindset of going. I think why we’ve been so successful with many startups, but also artists is that we tend to go global very fast. We have a global mindset in that sense. That’s something that Scandinavia stands out with.
Robert: At the core of what makes the Scandinavian mindset is the individual. There’s something very rebellious and individualistic in the whole society. We want to create our own path, we want to walk on all the way. We have a strong community in society but we also have a very strong belief in the individual.
That kind of strong-minded willingness and dedication to perfection, when combined with individualistic thinking, has really been the basis for a lot of great, successful, individuals in Scandinavian society.
Something that’s very underestimated… the people that are dead-set on changing things. Because that’s such an important part of Scandinavian society that’s not discussed that much. That’s such an important part of a complete society as well. I would call it almost a duality in the collective individual, and in that, a lot of amazing art is created.
Alexander: I would say, the duality between the work ethic and problem-solving. I would say that’s one of the traits of being from Scandinavia… how we grow up in society and how we’re shaped.
”Bridging the gap between worlds where tech meets art felt very refreshing.”
Other than that, when it comes to more specifics, let’s say, a visual aspect, our way of finding ways to simplify and make it beautiful, and basically our minimal approach. That in combination with our work ethic and problem-solving.
Thank you… and last but not least.
Jacob: I think it’s the duality between the individual and the collective. We’re struggling, and we’re oscillating between those two starting points in some way. It’s good for creativity in all sorts of ways because it creates an energy, going from the individual perspective to the collective perspective.
We in Scandinavia are really good at investigating both sides of those very important perspectives.