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How I got started in the Autonomous Vehicles Industry and why it still fascinates me

Updated: Sep 19, 2022

Gaurav Singh at North American International Auto show

I joined autonomous vehicles industry in 2016 and stayed until I went to pursue my MBA at Harvard Business School. Ending in the auto industry was not a surprising decision, most University of Michigan (Go Blue!) grads do. But joining autonomous vehicles industry wasn't that straightforward.

I was working for an auto supplier working with major OEMs such as Ford, General Motors. There I felt that I wasn't implementing the cutting edge control system algorithms I studied in my grad school. Obviously, it takes years to commercialize an innovative technology. Additionally, automotive industry has longer business cycle (3-5 years) than industries such as smartphones or software. I really wanted to be part of a disruption, and I found that in autonomous driving.

It wasn't easy. I spent six years getting two engineering degrees with major in control systems. But the center piece of autonomous vehicles puzzle wasn't control systems, it was artificial intelligence. I now needed to learn everything about machine and deep learning for autonomous vehicles. Fortunately, it was still up and coming field and the demand for machine learning experts exceeded the supply. I was able to spend several weeks after work to gain knowledge, build portfolio and earn credentials. That's how I got my first job as the Machine and Deep Learning Researcher for autonomous vehicles at Ford.

But what's so exciting about autonomous vehicles a.k.a self driving cars that I was willing to learn an entirely new field of engineering? While the pandemic has made a lot of jobs hybrid or remote, but before then driving was something which would take a major chunk of our time on a daily basis. Considering the risk involved on highways factoring in the unpredictability of other drivers on the road, it makes total sense to reduce the "weakest link" of the commute problem – the humans. Autonomous Driving is quite an interesting engineering problem – probably the most important robotics application one can imagine at this time. It’s more of a computer science problem and less of mechanical engineering these days. Now tell me you don't find it fascinating that autonomous driving is at the core of the amazing future brought upon us by artificial intelligence. I was glad that I was contributing to cutting edge technologies from the very beginning of my career.

However, the most exciting thing about the autonomous vehicles industry was not the hype around it. Rather it was how much of a clean slate the problem was. It was not just about creating a tech stack, but have it integrated within the product, generate consumer demand and acceptance and finally legislation to support massive deployment. I was fortunate to work on several of these aspects while at Ford, and has shaped my career ever since. I also got invited as a speaker at several international Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Vehicles summits and conferences.

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