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A world with self-driving cars on the road is not as far-off an idea as it once had been. Exponential technological advances have made autonomous vehicles (AV) a reality, and companies such as Motional are racing to bring them to market. Motional is a recently rebranded joint venture between vehicle manufacturing giant Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv PLC. It focuses on developing AV technology for Level 4 autonomous driving, which refers to self-driving cars performing all driving tasks autonomously under limited conditions. This is just one grade below Level 5, which allows for fully autonomous self-driving in all conditions.

Currently, four DigiPen (Singapore) graduates from the BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program are software engineers at Motional as part of the company’s push to advance the next frontier in AV technologies. They are Chong Ziyi, Ang Weekiat, Dennis Chua, and Titus Chua.

Ziyi, a 2017 graduate, was the first DigiPen (Singapore) alumni to be hired by Motional. He first heard about the company during a career fair organized by the school. Upon learning more about their work in the emerging field of AV technology, he became intrigued. According to a McKinsey report, the AV industry is expected to be worth US$1.9 trillion by 2025. It is a rapidly expanding field that has the potential to change the way people commute and live. Some of the key benefits of AV technology is the possibility of reducing road accidents and carbon emissions. Ziyi was drawn to the promise of its transformative potential and decided to apply for a job at Motional.

I found the idea of working on autonomous cars fascinating, especially since my father used to be a taxi driver

- Ang Weekiat

In Weekiat’s case, he was interested in the future of AVs for a more personal reason. “I found the idea of working on autonomous cars fascinating, especially since my father used to be a taxi driver,” he says. Weekiat applied for an internship at Motional in 2018 after his graduation and jumped at the chance to convert to a full-time position when his internship ended. “I’m interested not only in the job scope and tasks that I perform at Motional, but also in the company’s vision to provide safe and reliable autonomous vehicles for society,” he adds.

Like Weekiat, Dennis and Titus started as interns at Motional after graduating last year. They both felt strongly about the work that Motional was doing and saw it as a way of doing their part for the future. “It is hard not to be excited about being able to get from one place to another without the hassle of operating a vehicle. It makes day-to-day travel so much easier,” Dennis says. After their respective internships, both Dennis and Titus gratefully accepted full-time job offers with Motional. 

 Ang Weekiat, Chong Ziyi, Titus Chua, and Dennis Chua)
L to R: Ang Weekiat, Chong Ziyi, Titus Chua, and Dennis Chua

Though all four alumni are software engineers at Motional, they work on separate tasks and projects. Ziyi is part of the calibration team where he works on the AVs directly. He helps to engineer solutions that ensure the various sensors on the AV — such as its lidars, radars, and cameras — are precisely calibrated with one another. He also checks that the sensor placements on the vehicle comply with the technical requirements to reduce any uncertainties that may arise while the vehicle is in operation.

Before these AVs are deployed for on-road testing, they are tested virtually. As part of the simulations team, Weekiat helps to facilitate this. Running simulations is an important step in the testing process as it allows the team to identify, anticipate, and prevent all possible scenarios where something might go wrong.

In order to support the testing process, Dennis works on the mapping team at Motional where he creates high definition maps for the AVs to run in. He also develops new features to improve the quality of these maps and performs bug fixes based on consumer feedback.

Titus works in a team that’s largely made up of researchers. His main role is to ensure that the production code conforms to specific coding guidelines and best practices. Together with the other researchers, Titus also helps to design, review, and implement new features while performing code optimization, code refactoring, and bug fixes.

Working in the emerging field of AV is exciting, but doing so comes with high expectations and challenges. “Keeping myself updated with state-of-the-art technologies in the field is not easy,” Ziyi says. “There have been projects that I felt were out of my league due to knowledge and experience gaps. Thankfully, these can be overcome by having an open mind and a can-do attitude.”

Titus echoes a similar sentiment and shares that he faced uncertainties when performing code reviews in the beginning. In order to overcome this, he left comments on the code whenever he was unsure and checked in with a more senior developer to see if his concerns were valid. Over time, he gained more experience in the field and became confident in spotting potential coding pitfalls on his own. “I have amazing and supportive colleagues,” says Titus. “Whenever I need assistance, they will drop what they are doing and readily help. Their ability to answer my questions inspires me to think deeper. This gives me confidence that Motional is a place where I can effectively grow in my capacity as a software engineer.”

Beyond the friendly and inspiring environment at Motional, Ziyi, Weekiat, Dennis, and Titus are also eager about the possibilities that AV technology will open up. “Motional, in all of its previous forms, has been leading driverless technology for decades. Our DNA — a combination of Aptiv’s expertise in advanced technology and Hyundai’s leadership in both vehicle manufacturing and R&D — is uniquely powerful, and positions us to fundamentally change how people move through their lives,” said Karl Iagnemma, President and CEO of Motional. The graduates agree and look forward to seeing how society can change for the better thanks to the work that Motional is doing.