Big Data a focus for 2018 SAE President

Velodyne chief quality officer sees use of Big Data as a way to capitalize on multiple industry trends including vehicle electrification and automated vehicles.

A highly respected figure in the automotive industry, Mircea Gradu, Ph.D., this month begins his one-year term as SAE President amid monumental technology shifts that are rocking the automotive industry. SAE has been a source of progress and stability almost since the industry’s inception, and looks assured to continue in that way under Gradu’s leadership.

The Senior Vice President of Validation/Chief Quality Officer at Velodyne LiDAR Inc. is eager to get going.

“I started my involvement with SAE 25 years ago, while I was still working and studying in Stuttgart, Germany,” the Bucharest native and expert in mechatronics told SAE editors. “Becoming the president of an organization that I have always valued and strongly supported is the culmination of the various honors I received during my career, and I am humbled by this opportunity and motivated to continue to serve our worldwide members to the best of my abilities.”

Gradu, whose SAE contributions include a stint as Vice President-Automotive from 2010 to 2012, provided written responses to a number of questions covering his professional and personal life as well as several industry trends.

What do you believe is the value of belonging to a professional organization such as SAE in 2018, when engineers are so pressed for time?

Although 100+ years old, SAE has reinvented and rejuvenated itself multiple times, in order to meet or exceed today’s extremely fast information pace requirements. Through its various channels, including all the web-based products, SAE places at the fingertips of its members the tools needed in the mobility engineering profession, saving us significant time and effort.

What should SAE do to be more relevant to mobility engineers of the 2020s?

We’re living in exciting times, with the automotive industry situated at the confluence of four major trends with extremely broad influence, beyond the boundaries of the classic transportation space:

• Greenhouse gas emissions reduction over the entire life cycle of the vehicle, promoting the case for alternative energy powertrains, in particular electrification

• Vehicle Connectivity, with all V2X aspects, including Vehicle to Vehicle, Vehicle to Device, Vehicle to Pedestrian, Vehicle to Home, Vehicle to Grid and Vehicle to Infrastructure

• Increased levels of vehicle Autonomous Driving capability, with several of the industry giants racing toward the Level 5 (by SAE/NHTSA standards), which does not require any driver intervention

• Shared mobility including car sharing (round-trip, one-way, and personal vehicle sharing) and ridesharing (car-pooling, van- pooling)

One of the common denominators of all these trends is the increased need and opportunity for Big Data Collection and Analysis, which they create at an unprecedented rate. The Big Data benefits also the quality, safety, cybersecurity, and delivery process of the vehicle.

The Big Data Analysis techniques and tools are used to understand customer perceptions related to vehicle quality. These techniques can be used to drive continuous improvements in vehicle design, manufacturing, distribution and service. The related tools and skills required in order to materialize these strategies are a blend of established and emerging disciplines, and SAE must provide maximum support to its members in these areas, along with maintaining focus on the more traditional mobility engineering needs.

What are your goals as SAE President?

During my presidential mandate, consistent with the objectives I announced during the selection process, I would like to strongly focus on ADAS and autonomous vehicle technologies, given the significant safety benefits they provide. In addition, I would like to support initiatives in Big Data analytics and vehicle electrification and connectivity—all enablers for higher levels of vehicle automation. This will be done in conjunction with increased attention to the more traditional areas of automotive engineering, subjected also to an accelerated rate of development. Again, the engineering education, the application of the STEM model (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) represents a priority for me and a continuation of the impressive work at SAE by several previous presidents.

What are some of your most valuable talents and character traits?

I learned early in my career to listen to the various inputs I received from my talented colleagues, and try to factor them into my decisions and actions. I am always on the lookout for creative ideas and concepts and work diligently to materialize them into innovative new products and processes.

Not many people have as many patents and publications (dozens of each) as you do. How important is “drive” to success?

I have pursued innovation throughout my entire career, and I am particularly proud of awarded patents that make their way into the marketplace as mature products, while the rest are merely records of novel approaches. My motivation comes from a tremendous respect for engineers and for the invaluable contributions they bring to our world.

I would feel extremely rewarded if my presidential mandate continues to raise the interest level of new generations for the engineering profession and in general for STEM-based education. In my current position as Senior VP of Validation at Velodyne, I have the honor and privilege to work with CEO David Hall, who represents for me the living proof that even in today’s ultra-competitive environments, persistence in innovation, doubled by technical and business leadership, generates success and a lifetime of accomplishments.

Of what past achievement are you most proud?

In 2008, I won the SAE International Ed Cole Innovation Award for my overall contributions to automotive engineering. Knowing the caliber of the competing candidates and the rigor the selection committee puts in the final decision, along with being associated with the name of one of the top industry and General Motors leaders, represented for me a significant accomplishment.

Was there any single life event that led you to pursue a technical career?

I was born a “car guy” and drove cars long before I could reach the pedals, in my father’s lap on practice courses. While he was certainly entertained by my attempts to steer the vehicle when I was 6, as a doctor he would have been much happier if I had selected a medical college instead of a technical university many years later.

However, soon after graduation and witnessing the successful start of my career, he became an advocate for automotive engineering, which knowing him, I consider another of my greatest accomplishments.

How important has your association with SAE been in your career success?

For me SAE has always been the go-to resource for technical information and standards, reflective of the industry’s position relative to a certain topic. This is based on the fact that the SAE’s products, including publications, standards, and conferences, are all the result of the collective knowledge of our members, and in many cases, provide access to state-of- the-art technology.

Has SAE has been more valuable to you personally or professionally?

I would say SAE helped me both personally, by introducing me to people that I admire and value as friends today, as well as professionally, through the networking and continuous education opportunities.

In general, through my entire career, I have witnessed compelling cases where SAE has provided tremendous support to mobility industries, regulatory organizations, and providers of engineering education. In recent years, when the auto industry became concerned with cybersecurity and the framework for autonomous vehicles, SAE stepped up and created the initial set of concepts/standards, like the J3061 Cybersecurity Guidebook for Cyber-Physical Vehicle Systems and J3016 to define the levels of Driving Automation for On-Road Motor Vehicles, both embraced by key regulatory organizations.

Any final thoughts?

As mobility engineers, we have chosen an incredible career path that is going through an unprecedented era of change with the application of autonomous and sensing technologies. The field of automotive engineering has an opportunity to expand its reach, not just to more people around the world but also in terms of the development of technical expertise not previously associated with the automotive industry.

Everything from edge computing to advanced cybersecurity will be incorporated into the autonomous vehicles of the near future, allowing them to become possibly the most advanced pieces of hardware made to this point. The fact that these technological advancements will be driven by automotive engineers is extremely exciting to me, and inspiring to younger, aspiring engineers.

Getting to know Mircea Gradu

SAE’s 2018 President was born in Bucharest and earned his MSME at the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest, followed by a doctorate in mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Stuttgart, Germany. Since then, he has worked mainly on mechatronic systems (the overlap between electrical and mechanical engineering disciplines) and has gained experience and deep knowledge of design, development, manufacturing, safety, and cybersecurity across the automotive and commercial vehicle industries.

He began his career at Daimler-Benz AG in Stuttgart, Germany. Past experience includes key roles at Hyundai; The Timken Company; Chrysler Group LLC in the U.S, where he served as Vice President Powertrain Transmission and Driveline Engineering and Head of Virtual Analysis reporting to the CEO; and USCAR and U.S. Drive Council Member. Dr. Gradu has been awarded 56 patents on mechatronic automotive systems, published over 40 papers and held seminars or offered presentations at SAE, IEEE, TOPTEC, VDI, and IFToMM events.

A member of SAE International since 1994, Gradu’s distinguished career includes being the recipient of the 2008 Edward Cole Award for Automotive Innovation, the 2005 Forest McFarland Award and the SAE-Timken Howard Simpson Innovation Award. He was elected SAE Fellow in 2011 and served as Vice President of SAE International-Automotive from 2010 to 2012.

Now residing in California, Gradu seeks out work and leisure opportunities there together with his wife, Mihaela. “I am an avid mountain biker, kite surfer, and skier, which sometimes distracts me from car-related activities, which span from maintaining and driving my collector 911 Porsche Carrera 3.2 to acquiring LiDAR data in some of our test vehicles,” he said.

In addition, an affiliate of his company, Velodyne Marine, has allowed him to become involved with the further development of the active boat suspension concepts invented by Velodyne CEO David Hall, which has already been successfully demonstrated in his Martini 1.0 and Martini 1.5 prototypes. “Crossing the Bay without spilling your martini is what inspired the names of the impressive active suspension boat prototypes, and I look forward to the progress of these fascinating design solutions,” he said.