She’s Mercedes: Intelligence in Automotive

November 16, 2017

This month, a group of intelligent women at MBRDNA hosted a panel discussion partnered with Women Who Code. While MBRDNA and parent company Daimler have long been known for employing a diverse group of people with differing perspectives, we wanted to share with prospective students and women currently working in the tech industry on what we had to say about working at MBRDNA and Silicon Valley. Before a packed crowd, our panelists discussed their backgrounds — and their personal experiences working in the male dominated automotive industry.

Women Who Code regularly holds meetups in Silicon Valley, and we warmly welcome them as partners in improving the workplace for everyone. The MBRDNA panelists spoke of what inspires them, how they got to where they are, and the future of automotive design and engineering. We’ve provided a sampling of their discussion, below.

Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

What were your early career choices and how did they help you to get where you are, today?

Kristina Adam –
 I studied Interface Design in Stuttgart and it was around my third semester of college when I got interested in Automotive Interface Design and its challenges. I applied for an internship at Daimler and have been with the company ever since.

Maja Buhr – I never thought I would end up in automotive. I studied Engineering and Mathematics because I always wanted to be a math teacher. I ended up deciding to intern with Daimler in Germany and fell in love.

We often hear about the challenges women face in the tech industry -can you share with us from your perspective what advantages you experienced?

Sonam Kanungo –
 Science shows us that women and men think differently. Having a diverse group of people helps to have different perspectives in the team. I get instant recognition for proposing a fresh solution. Apart from that ,women are natural networkers. They love to talk, mingle and rub elbows.  I use my networking skill to my advantage all the time.

Kristina Adam – At MBRDNA, I actually work in a (now) female-dominated team –  we just hired four new female interns. I think one of the things you will see here at MBRDNA is that there is a lot of diversity not just in gender, but also different cultural backgrounds as well.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in the automotive industry?

Maja Buhr –
The four trends that I am seeing is what we call CASE which stands for Connected, Autonomous, Sharing and Electricity. We have always worked on these topics from the beginning, but now with CASE, we have realized that these topics aren’t their own individual field, but work together as one. We are working to integrate them.

Will you tell us a little bit about what the word “intelligence” means and some projects you’re working on?

Sonam Kanungo –
We are working on predicting what the driver will want or need before the driver even knows. For example, we want the car to know what mood the driver is in or what their driving patterns are or what time does the driver usually goes home. We want to make the whole driving experience a lot more convenient and comfortable.

Maja Buhr – We are not only trying to create intelligent cars while you drive, we want cars to be intelligent and connected with everything around them. I personally would love it if my washing machine started as I was leaving work so once I got home, I could throw the laundry into the dryer and not stay up all night doing laundry. It could be anything like turning the lights on at a certain time or starting your cooling or heating system as you drive home.

Since this panel is being held inside a R&D center, there are a lot of things that you’re working on, but can’t discuss. Could you talk about some projects that you can talk about?

Samina Reddy –
One of our main focuses is to minimize user interaction within the car. Like, we don’t want users to have to enter a location of where they’re going — but instead have the car offer a few suggestions based on the time of day and where you currently are. If you are in Santa Cruz, the car will suggest a few radio stations specifically for that area which are probably different from the radio stations when you are in San Jose. We are trying to bring this into more cars in the future. We do a lot of our R&D in-house, by the way, so we’re less reliant upon suppliers and their timelines.

How are you able to envision and create these concept show cars?

Kristina Adam –
Being able to work on these cars has been incredible. To know that immediately after we publicly show a car, people are Googling how much it costs — and when can I buy it – is a great feeling. One thing that Samina touched on earlier is the idea of machine learning and predictions, which is a huge part in User Experience Design. We want the car to be an assistant for you and to be personalized for each individual driver. The biggest challenge  we face in automotive UI/UX design today is that our users primary focus is still driving ( not interacting with our interface).. But that will change in the future when we transition to autonomous cars, which brings along a whole new set of challenges

Where do you get your inspiration from to create designs?

Kristina Adam –
For designers, inspiration is super important and we not only try to create an inspiring space in our design studio but also make time as a team to go out and actively seek inspiration, like when we recently visited the Color Factory in San Francisco.