Automobile engineering, and the automotive industry, in general, is jam-packed with highly talented and dedicated engineers. They are literally changing the world before our very eyes and are making the theoretical a reality.
Current trends in the industry are seeing a distinct move away from combustion engines to electric vehicles. Manufacturers are also pushing for ever-increasing integration of computing and AI into their vehicles.
With many thousands of hardworking and exceptional engineers out with the following 15 a mere sample. They range from experts in EV batteries to those attempting the impossible: Invisibility.
This list is but a snapshot of the industry and is far from exhaustive. It is also in no particular order.
1. Dr. Lucian Gheorghe is Helping Build Nissan's Brain-to-Vehicle (B2V) Tech
Dr. Lucian Gheorghe and Nissan have recently unveiled their ambitious project to allow drivers brains to directly communicate with their car. Although this might conjure up images of 'brain jacking' akin to the Matrix, the reality is far more benign.
Nissan is working on a specialized wire cap that will measure a persons brain wave activity. The vehicle's autonomous systems will then analyze the information in real-time to anticipate driver's intentions.
Gheorghe and Nissan hope that B2V technology will predict driver behavior and significantly improve reaction time by as much as 0.2 to 0.5 seconds.
It may also be used to analyze the comfort level of the driver and act accordingly. B2V will also allow autonomous driving modes to mimic the driving style of the driver - minus bad habits, like speeding, of course.
This technology is still under development and is unlikely to be with us anytime soon. It does, however, represent an interesting concept of mixing human and AI in future technology.
2. Jen-Hsun Huang, NVIDIA CEO, is Working With Mercedes-Benz to Make Cars Learn
Jen-Hsun Huang and NVIDIA have been working closely with Mercedes-Benz to make their new C and E Classes learn from you. The software being developed will mean cars will study and learn from drivers habits and implement what they have learned to make predictions.
"Their software studies user behavior to make personalized predictions, for instance automatically suggesting the morning’s routing or navigating to the nearest gas station to fill up, based on driving history, real-time sensor readings, destination, and other factors. With an in-car office experience, incremental AI gives drivers time back in their busy days" said Sajjad Khan, Vice President Digital Vehicle, and Mobility at Daimler AG.
Mercedes-Benz and NVIDIA ultimately plan to house a 'supercomputer' in every car that can and will connect to the 'cloud'. This, they plan, will make future vehicles highly adaptive co-pilots that are always looking out for the driver and passengers rather than just modes of transport.
3. Nakul Duggal of Qualcomm and Ford are Building a Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything Network
At CES 2018, Ford and Qualcomm made a joint announcement about their new vehicle communication tech called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything. Nakul Duggal is an electrical engineer and currently serves as the Vice President for Product Management at Qualcomm.
The idea, as the name suggests, is to build a means for vehicles to talk to smart infrastructure, other vehicles, and even pedestrians cellular devices.
This will work without using the wider cellular network and will not require a subscription to get the benefits from it. It will operate similarly to the cellular communication standards defined by the field of Internet of Things.
Trials have been announced in a few cities in the U.S. like San Diego in the first half of 2018. Ford plans to make all new vehicles in the U.S. connected by 2019.
If successful, it will mark a huge leap forward towards the development of smart cities. Not to mention a milestone in the transition from human-operated to fully autonomous vehicles, at least on public roads.
4. Keyvan Mohajer and Majid Emami are Helping Build Hyundai's AI PA
Hyundai hopes to install its new AI personal assistant in their new models of car from 2019. This voice-controlled technology is being developed by Soundhound Inc, a voice-enabled AI specialist Silicon Valley company that was founded by Keyvan Mohajer and Majid Emami (both electrical engineer graduates from Stanford) in 2005.
It functions a lot like Google Assistant or Apple's Siri but will be able to deal with multiple commands. It can, for example, distinguish two separate commands in a single sentence and complete those tasks accordingly.
Not only will it respond to commands but it is also designed to take 'initiative' and help the driver by reminding them of upcoming meetings or make route suggestions etc.
Like other artificial PA's, it can be used to make phone calls, search for destinations, check the weather, and so on. It can also be used to perform repetitive functions like controlling AC or door locks.
Other car brands are working on similar systems, including Mercedes-Benz, who have recently unveiled their infotainments interface that is also supposed to be 'intuitive'.
5. Andrew Farah Is Spearheading GM's Move Into Autonomous Cars
Andrew Farah began his career in the 1980's at General Motors after graduating with bachelors in computer engineering and a master's in electrical science from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is now their Chief Technological Architect.
Over the last 30+ years, he has been working on groundbreaking GM vehicles like the EV-1 and Bolt EV and now is helping bring GM into the autonomous vehicle industry.
Unlike some of their competitors, however, GM will only deliver it when the company's engineers are satisfied that it is universally safer than human drivers.
However, through its investment in Cruise Automation, the GM is already running autonomous cars, albeit with human drivers on board, on busy San Francisco streets.
Farah is perfectly placed to help GM develop their own driverless cars as it combines two of his favorite things, computers, and cars.
6. Roy Goudy is Leading Nissan's Development of Vehicle-to-Vehicle Technology
Roy Goudy dreams of a day when cars will be able to talk to one another, not to mention traffic lights and roadside displays.
Goudy earned his bachelor's in metallurgical engineering from the University of Washington, joined the U.S. Air Force, but before earning his master's physics from the University of Utah. He later worked in Japan, but finally returned to the U.S. to join Nissan.
“In the U.S., there were 32,000 traffic fatalities last year,” Roy told Design News. “And vehicle-to-vehicle communication has the potential to reduce those numbers. For that reason, my hope is to see it come to fruition.”
Goudy believes this field is set to be revolutionary, not just because of its implications for safety but because car brands will need to be work closely together to make it a success. GM cars will need to talk to Fords and Fords will have to talk to Toyota's, for example.
Nissan has already developed an early warning system designed to prevent crashes at intersections. This system, via V2V messages, predicts that crashes are imminent and warns the driver accordingly.
This innovation helped Nissan engineers earn a cool 11 patents with 6 more on the way.
7. Josh Tavel Helped Bring GM's Volt and Bolt to Production
Josh Tavel is a chief engineer at GM who oversaw the inclusion of features like a 60-kWh battery into GM's award-winning all-electric Chevy Bolt.
Tavel earned his bachelor's degree in engineering technology from Minnesota State and his master's in engineering from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
The Bolt also employs a "one-pedal mode" that lets drivers stop the vehicle without the need for a brake pedal. At least under certain conditions. This and other features earned the Bolt the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year.
“When you have a good product – like an Apple phone – it’s intuitive, but you don’t notice it’s intuitive,” he told us. “ Tavel said during an interview. "That’s the sign of great engineering.”
Tavel is confident for the future of all-electric cars like the Bolt. He believes that as battery costs fall as well as propulsion costs and vehicle ranges improve electric cars will become more desirable to the general public.
“We’re on a very good glide path to create a really big market for electric vehicles,” he added.
8. Jason Hallman Helps Save Lives By Studying Accidents
Jason Hallman is a Toyota engineer who is developing techniques to better understand accidents in order to help prevent fatalities. Jason started out studying mechanical engineering but always held a passion for medicine.
He earned his bachelor's at Valparaiso University and later acquired a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Marquette University.
He believes in a future where crashes never happen but understand this won't be a reality anytime soon. Until such time, it is imperative for engineers like Hallman to improve our understanding of what happens during crashes and figure out ways of mitigating potential life-threatening injuries.
Hallman is responsible for the advanced development of future crashworthiness performance of Toyota vehicles. It is his assessment that in the near future individualized protection systems for each occupant is the way forward.
He is also developing better and smarter crash test dummies to replace the current, regulatory compliant, but decades-old conventional models. He has also helped create a computational model called THUMS (Total Human Model for Safety) that simulates, in detail, the effects of crashes on internal organs.
Jason has also been called upon to assist in the implementation of Federal Vehicle Motor Safety Standard 226.
9. J B Straubel is Helping Tesla to Build a 200-mile Ranged Electric Car
J B Straubel has been building electric cars since he was a teenager and is now Tesla's chief technology officer. His passion for electric vehicles began when he found a clapped-out 30-year-old golf cart that inspired him to build his own.
Straubel earned his bachelor's in energy systems engineering from Stanford and later convinced them to create a tailormade major in energy engineering in which he graduated with a master's degree.
After approaching Elon Musk in 2004, he was made chief technology officer of Tesla. He has since gone on to help develop Tesla's Roadster, Model S and their Tesla Model 3.
The Model 3 is truly ambitious development to provide a low pricetag EV with a range of 200-miles (322 km).
Straubel now serves on the board of directors for SolarCity. He also teaches energy storage classes and is working hard on scale-up of the Model 3.
10. Michael James is Helping Build the Future of Autonomous Cars
Dr. Michael James now works for Waymo but was previously the chief engineer and Director of Driving (Autonomous) at Toyota's Research Institute. James received two bachelor's degrees in Computer Science in Mathematics from Michigan Technology University in 1999.
He later received his master's and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science, specializing in machine learning/intelligent systems, from the University of Michigan in 2005.
At Toyota, he helped develop machine learning for perception and prediction using multiple sensor modalities. He was also instrumental in furthering their systems decision-making and control under uncertainty algorithms.
He has published over 20 refereed papers in conferences such as ICML, AAAI, IJCAI, AAMAS, and IROS. Michale also holds 10 U.S. patents, has served on the program committees of AAAI and ICML and is a member of IEEE and AAAI.
11. Taehee Han Is Helping Nissan Build Better EV Batteries
Nissan engineer Taehee Han is driving innovation to produce a more efficient electric car battery. He leads a team of chemists, materials scientists, and chemical engineers to develop the tech in-house.
Han earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering in South Korea. He was fascinated with green energy and decided to move to the U.S. to study it, ultimately earning his master's degree in engineering at Texas A & M University. He followed this up with a Ph.D. in energy engineering at the University of North Dakota.
Nissan wanted to keep battery development in-house unlike some of their competitors like Tesla and GM. This tactic seems to be paying off with the company having sold 250,000 EV cars to date with no major battery-overheating issues reports.
“We have zero fire incidents,” Han told designnews. “Our battery is so safe, even the Chinese government uses it as a reference for their stringent abuse tests.”
Han believes that better batteries are as important as renewable energy generation. He believes the tech is quickly developing enough to render charge times a bigger concern than range. For instance, batteries are quickly yielding ranges of 300 miles (482 km) but have charge times of a few hours, not ideal.
12. Anthony King is Helping Ford Deliver a Groundbreaking HUD
Anthony King is a systems integration expert who earned his bachelor's and master's in mechanical engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He has worked on pioneering technologies from the beginning of his career.
King spearheading Ford's desire to install advanced HUD's in their new Lincolns. The idea for it was first suggested in 2011 but Ford engineers, at the time, though it would be far too difficult to achieve.
What was suggested was to try to fit a shoebox-sized projection display behind an already cluttered instrument cluster. This was a daunting task, to say the least.
“We were trying to squeeze a very large box into an area that had no extra space, to begin with,” King explains,
King, with his past experience in the aerospace industry, was the obvious choice to help spearhead the development of the project. He was able to successfully work with interior design teams to carve out enough space for it, although the windscreen needed to be completely redesigned.
13. Chris Oesterling Made the Leap from Gaming to Automotive Industry
Chris Oesterling successfully made the jump from the gaming industry to automotive industry and has helped save GM $350 million a year. When his career began in the 1980's, writing code for Atari games he never foresaw that his future would end up in a completely different industry.
Chris later helped develop GM's OnStar Division to help develop wireless diagnostic systems to find potential warranty issues on GM's fleet. His work with OnStar has helped GM make some considerable annual savings in warranty related problems.
Today he is working on GM's new car-sharing business, Maven. This venture is GM's gambit to enter the fledgling vehicle-sharing market and build foundations skills for future autonomous vehicles.
To date, he has been awarded 70 patents with 30 more in the pipeline.
14. Minjuan Zhang is Helping Toyota Develop an "Invisibility Cloak"
Minjuan Zhang and her team are working hard to provide drivers with unobstructed views for drivers using Toyota's "invisibility cloaks". Zhang is a longtime Toyota engineer and material scientist who has been awarded over 50 patents.
Her work focusses on light and how it interacts with materials.
She made her mark in 2016 when she introduced a paint color called 'Structural Blue'. This paint, which was included on the 2017 Lexus LC 500 H provided a deep color that was developed from the study of metallic structures in butterflies.
Building on her work with structural blue, she is developing a means of allowing drivers to see through structures that normally block their view. Her solution will utilize a system of lenses and polarised light to make the normally unseen visible.
Although still a company secret, the technology will effectively eliminate interior obstructions, like roof pillars, from the vehicle's occupant's field of view.
“We could still keep the same structures, but we could make them invisible so we could improve the view of the driver,” Zhang explains.
15. Sara Stabenow is Helping GM Lead the Charge on Delivering Fuel Cells
Sara Stabenow earned her bachelor's and master's degree in Materials Science and Engineering from Ohio State University. After a stint at Honda's R & D America's Inc she joined GM where she has worked ever since.
Sara began focussing on helping GM develop fuel cells in 2013 and was promoted to Global Program Manager in 2017. Since then Sara has been working to deliver GM's SURUS (Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure) vehicle as soon as possible.
SURUS is a flexible fuel cell electric platform that has autonomous capabilities. It is planned to adapt the vehicle for military use too.
This vehicle will utilize GM and Honda's joint venture Hydrotec fuel cell system to provide zero emission propulsion. They have already jointly invested $85 Billion and plan to begin production of them by 2020.
Charlie Freese, executive director of GM Global Fuel Cell Business. said, “SURUS redefines fuel cell electric technology for both highway and off-road environments."
So there we are 15 of the Greatest Minds in Automobile Engineering Today. With a wide range of skills and specialties, they are pushing the boundaries of the modern automotive industry.
But these are but 15 out of thousands of very talented and highly dedicated engineers in automobile engineering. Who, if anyone, would you include? Feel free to comment below.