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10 hidden champions of automated driving you didn't know

Who are the lesser-known masterminds steering automated driving? (Photo: Fotolia)

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Who’s really driving automated driving? Here’s our list of hidden AD masterminds; the people behind the people! The people you might not have heard of...yet.

If you're looking for the Musks, the Urmsons, the Lewandowskis, you won't find them on this list. No, we're not talking about the names that grab the headlines - we're talking about the names that appear as experts after the centerfold. These are the people who are really at the top of their respective games; bringing ideas, researching, pushing limits, trying new things.

1. THE LEGAL MIND: BRYANT WALKER SMITH

University of South Carolina, School of Law | Assistant Professor | South Carolina

Holding far too many academic and advisory positions to name, Bryant Walker Smith has become somewhat of a Legal Eagle in the automated driving world. A civil engineer by trade, he then served as a transport engineer until going back to school and collecting another not one, but two degrees from New York University School of Law. Now, as Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina, he is addressing some central questions arising from the inevitable shift from driver liability to product liability - which will place the automotive industry right at the center of the blame game.


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Website: newlypossible.org

2. THE ETHICIST: IYAD RAHWAN

Massachusetts Institute of Technology | Associate Professor | Massachusetts

When it comes to the ethical dilemmas surrounding self-driving cars, there are those who just pose the questions and there are those who try and answer them. Professor Iyad Rahwan falls into the latter category. A native of Aleppo, Syria, the Professor at the MIT Media Lab explores the social aspects of Artificial Intelligence, in particular the social dilemma of self-driving cars. His team's Moral Machine project is attempting to gather a human perspective on a reiteration of the famous trolley problem - an ethical dilemma that must somehow be answered before it can be programmed into cars.


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Website: Moral Machine


3. THE MOBILITY MOGUL: EMILY CASTOR

Lyft | Director of Transportation Policy | California, USA

While Kalanick and Co. of Uber are grabbing the headlines by being at the center of law suits or by testing their driverless fleets, its rival, Lyft, lurks in the background; quietly confident. And with good reason. Emily Castor - its Director of Transportation Policy - was previously a transportation policy aide on Capitol Hill and has a clear vision when it comes to the start-up's driverless technology in the wider scope of the sharing economy. "This is coming to our society," she told the New York Post last year, "we'd rather be the Netflix than the Blockbuster in this situation."


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4. THE DIY GUY: GEORGE HOTZ

Comma.ai | CEO | California, USA

Perhaps most famous for hacking the iphone back in 2007, "Geohot" and his San Francisco based startup 'comma.ai' abandoned plans to release an aftermarket add-on that would give certain cars semi-autonomous driving capability for only $999. Why? Because of stern letter from the NHTSA concerning its safety. His reaction? To release the plans and software for the device open source online for people to build themselves. Which one student did. And it worked. Could this clearly very capable engineer (who by the way, interned at none other than Facebook, Google and SpaceX) be onto something? Self-built, self-driving cars?


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5. THE ROCKET MAN: MARK MOORE

Uber | Engineering Director of Aviation | California, USA

Getting self-driving cars on the road isn’t exactly proving easy. So when Uber revealed its new venture into the world of self-driving flying cars in October 2016, you would have been excused for thinking: MARKETING PLOY. But then again, nothing screams “we’re serious” like hiring a man who has spent 30 years working on advanced aircraft concepts at none other than NASA as your Engineering Director of Aviation. So now Mark Moore is focused on achieving what he calls “breakthrough on-demand aviation capabilities". Let’s face it: if there is one man that could get this project off the ground, surely Uber has found him.


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6. THE PATHFINDER: RUSS SHIELDS

Ygomi LLC | Chair | North Dakota, USA

You could say that this US entrepreneur has put AD on the map. Holding degrees in Mathematics and History as well as an MBA, Russ Shields entered into the world of business with a special interest in large databases. As COO of Navteq, he was already piloting how vehicles could benefit from digital maps in the 90s! Navteq then evolved into HERE – leaders in high end 3D mapping – after a whopping 8 billion U.S. dollar cash takeover by Nokia in 2007. As head of Ygomi, he remains a big player in the AD mapping game by continuing to deliver innovative software and services to automotive manufacturers.

You won’t find Mr. Shields on social media but this video gives another glimpse into his impressive career.

7. THE PEOPLE PERSON: MELISSA CEFKIN

Nissan | Principal Scientist, Design Anthropologist | California, USA

While Dr Cefkin is key to realizing Nissan’s driverless vision, she is not an engineer, computer scientist or anything else you might expect. She’s an anthropologist – and her PhD thesis explored folklore and dance! But why would Nissan need somebody who studies humans? Aren’t we heading towards a driverless future? The fact is, even in such a world, people will always be interacting with vehicles in some way. And so, as Dr Cefkin says: “you need to understand humans if you want to provide them with an automated partner.” Who better to find a universal language for humans and machines for example?


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8. THE BRAIN: JENSEN HUANG

NVIDIA | Founder and CEO | California, USA

Human drivers are pretty good. So the self-driving car of the future will need to have super-human capabilities – including a pretty powerful ‘brain’ to process and fuse the hordes of data that its ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ collect. On that front, Nvidia co-founder and CEO Jen Hsun (Jensen) Huang is making no secret of his desire to corner the market. On the release of the Drive PX2 at the CES 2016, Huang reported that the AD superchip packed enough punch to “make the dream of autonomous driving finally come true." With subsequent partnerships announced with Volvo and Audi it seems he is pursuing that dream. He’s the brains behind the brain if you will.


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9. THE VISIONARY: FRANK M. RINDERKNECHT

Rinspeed Inc. | Owner | Zurich, Switzerland

When you strip away the challenges of automated driving and imagine a world of exclusively level 5 self-driving cars, all of a sudden “the car” takes on a whole new meaning. That’s when you can let your imagination run wild – which is exactly what founder and CEO of the Swiss carmaker Rinspeed does for a living! Born and educated in Zurich, he started out importing sunroofs from the U.S. before founding his company in 1979. Now its innovation lab produces some truly stunning autonomous car concepts. As quirky interiors become more and more important in the market, so too do true design visionaries like Rinderknecht.


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10. THE NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: CAROL REILEY & SAMEEP TANDON (DRIVE.AI)

drive.ai | President & Co-founder | California, USA

drive.ai | CEO & Co-founder | California, USA

Drive.ai came out of stealth recently saying that the solution to all self-driving uncertainties lies in deep learning – a type of machine learning. And given their personnel, we have reason to believe that the startup could deliver. Of their seven founders, Sameep Tandon, was studying AI at Stanford before starting drive.ai, while Carol Reiley is a Johns Hopkins Ph.D. candidate in robotics. Claiming to be the only company using deep learning to power the entire autonomous system – including communication with pedestrians – it has already raised 12 million U.S. dollars and is rumored to have automakers lined up for fleet tests already. Stay tuned.


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Website: Carol Reiley: Roboticist

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Who else should be on this list? Let us know in the comments section or at contact2025adcom

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