19+ of The Greatest Minds in Automobile Engineering Today: Innovators and Key Players to Watch
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 eyes and are making the theoretical a reality.
Current trends in the industry are seeing a distinct move away from internal combustion engines (ICE) to electric vehicles. Manufacturers are also pushing for the integration of computing and AI into their vehicles.
With many thousands of hardworking and exceptional engineers out, the following 15 are just a sample. They range from experts in EV batteries to those attempting to create an invisibility cloak.
This list is only 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 an 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 person's brain wave activity. The vehicle's autonomous systems will then analyze the information in real-time to anticipate the driver's intentions.
Gheorghe and Nissan hope that this brain-to-vehicle (B2V) technology will help predict driver behavior and significantly improve vehicle 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 adjust the vehicle performance accordingly. In the future, B2V could also allow autonomous driving modes to mimic the driving style of the driver — minus the bad habits, like speeding, of course.
This technology is still under development and is unlikely to be with us anytime soon. It could, however, represent an interesting advance in the use of combining human and AI in future technology.
2. Jen-Hsun Huang, NVIDIA CEO, Is Guiding Work With Mercedes-Benz to Make Cars Learn
Jen-Hsun Huang's team at NVIDIA have been working closely with Mercedes-Benz to allow their new C and E Class vehicles to learn from their drivers. The software being developed will enable cars to study and learn from drivers' habits, and then 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 connect to the 'cloud.' They hope that this will make future vehicles akin to highly adaptive co-pilots that are always looking out for the driver and passengers, rather than just a passive machine.
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. The project is being overseen at Qualcomm by Nakul Duggal, an electrical engineer who is currently serving as the Senior Vice President and General Manager, Automotive at Qualcomm.
The idea 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. It will operate similarly to the cellular communication standards defined by the field of the Internet of Things.
4. Keyvan Mohajer and Majid Emami are Leading the Drive to Build Hyundai's AI PA
Hyundai hopes to install its new AI personal assistant (PA) in their new models of cars. 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.
The plan is for the assistant to function a lot like Google Assistant or Apple's Siri, but to 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, including Mercedes-Benz, are working on similar systems.
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 a bachelor's 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.
However, unlike some of their competitors, GM will only deliver the system when the company's engineers are satisfied that it is universally safer than human drivers.
Through its investment in Cruise Automation, GM is already trialing 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 areas of expertise, 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, and joined the U.S. Air Force before earning his master's in physics from the University of Utah. He later worked in Japan, and 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 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, etc.
Nissan has already developed an early warning system designed to prevent crashes at intersections. This system, using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) messaging, can predict when crashes are imminent and warn the driver accordingly.
This innovation has so far led Nissan engineers to file for 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.
“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 about the future of all-electric cars like the Bolt. He believes that as battery costs fall; so will propulsion costs, and vehicle ranges will improve. Making electric cars 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 principle engineer at the Toyota Collaborative Safety Research Center. He is working to develop techniques to better understand accidents in order to help prevent fatalities. Hallman started out studying mechanical engineering, but always had a passion for medicine.
He earned his bachelor's at Valparaiso University and later acquired a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Marquette University.
Hallman believes in a future where crashes never happen, but 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 partly 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.
Hallman 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 currently 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, Model X, and Model Y.
10. Michael James Is Helping Build the Future of Autonomous Cars
Dr. Michael James now works in machine learning and autonomous driving 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 more than 20 refereed papers in conference journals 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 Ph.D. students in chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering 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.
Today, he dreams of giving batteries the same kind of green potential as wind turbines.
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 is working on Ford's plan to install advanced, augmented reality heads up displays (HUD) in their new Lincolns. The idea for it was first suggested in 2011, but Ford engineers at the time thought 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.
With past experience in the aerospace industry, King was an 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 the automotive industry and has helped save GM $350 million a year. When his career began in the 1980s, 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 in GM's fleet. His work with OnStar 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 foundational 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"
Toyota General Manager Minjuan Zhang and her team are working hard to provide drivers with unobstructed views by creating an "invisibility cloak" for cars. Zhang is a longtime Toyota engineer and material scientist who has been awarded more than 50 patents.
Her work focuses 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 turn 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.
Stabenow began focussing on helping GM develop fuel cells in 2013 and was promoted to Fuel Cell Program Manager in 2017. She worked to deliver GM's SURUS (Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure) vehicle. SURUS is a flexible fuel cell electric platform that has autonomous capabilities. It is planned to adapt the vehicle for military use too.
Charlie Freese, executive director of GM Global Fuel Cell Business said at the time that, “SURUS redefines fuel cell electric technology for both highway and off-road environments."
This vehicle planned to utilize GM and Honda's joint venture Hydrotec fuel cell system to provide zero-emission propulsion. The companies jointly invested $85 billion in the pan, but in 2020, GM made the decision to back away from hydrogen fuel cells for passenger vehicles, to focus instead on battery-powered passenger vehicles.
Despite it isn't actively planning to developed hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars, the company is still developing the technology for military and commercial vehicles and has begun mass production.
16. Elon Musk Is Disrupting the Entire Automotive Industry
What more can be said about Musk's Tesla company? The EV company continues to defy odds with its autonomous, sleek, and powerful vehicles. Tesla Motors cars are packed with a design language that is not typically found in other cars, like automatically opening and closing doors, adjustable trunk sizes, and a self-cooling "dog mode" when the cars are parked.
Musk's ambition here and in his other companies has garnered him a cult-like following. As for his cars, Musk proved to the automotive world that electric cars be high performing and appeal to the mid-market, sparking an EV chain reaction across the industry.
17. Arjo van der Ham Is Making Solar-Powered Vehicles a Reality
Arjo van der Ham is one of the co-founders of the electric start-up Lightyear. The Dutch-based chief technology officer received a bachelor's in Electrical Engineering and master's in Electrical. He has brought his years of experience to Lightyear and their highly anticipated flagship vehicle.
Dubbed the Lightyear One, the company's EV will feature an impressive 450 miles (725 kilometers) of range thanks to its built-in solar panel. The panel can charge the car’s battery with up to 12 km of range an hour and are 20 percent more efficient than traditional models. The car is expected to debut on the market in the coming years.
18. RJ Scaringe Is Going to Challenge Tesla
RJ Scaringe is another EV innovator on our list who is dedicated to achieving a zero-carbon future. He plans on doing this with his electric car company Rivian Automotive. His first two Rivian vehicles turned heads in November 2018 at the LA Auto Show, promising future customers an electric rugged, and luxurious automotive experience.
The MIT Sloan Automotive Laboratory graduate intends on delivering his highly anticipated vehicles within the next year. Many experts believe that Rivian will directly compete with Tesla.
19. Peter Rawlinson Is Disrupting the Automotive Industry Again
Peter Rawlinson has 30 impressive years under his belt including an impressive stint as Vice President of Vehicle Engineering at Tesla and Chief Engineer of the Model S. Now working as CEO and CTO of Lucid Motors, he is applying what has learned to develop the company's upcoming EV models.
The automaker recently made headlines when its Lucid Air EV debut, boasting some impressive stats, including 1,080 horsepower. Rawlinson is helping the EV company develop into a technical powerhouse.
The man behind the new solar-powered wearable tech on how he did it and what he wants to do with it.