David is mapping the future of autonomous driving
David is a Lead Research Engineer and the technical lead of the High Definition Map Automation Localization Geometry Team, working inside Highly Automated Driving (HAD). His team creates 3D objects in the HD Live Map to help autonomous vehicles determine their position on the map.
What led you to working within Highly Automated Driving?
My graduate work entirely focused on LiDAR data analysis, which is exactly what I am applying at HERE to solve problems related to automating the creation of HD map localization content. Also during graduate school I was very heavily involved with several open source projects in these areas, like the Visualization Toolkit (VTK) and the Point Cloud Library (PCL), which is where I learned to work on large software projects and was lucky enough to have several veteran software engineers as mentors.
What is your team working on now?
We have two major projects at the moment. First is “3D Occupancy Grids” which are a lightweight way to represent the full 3D structure of the world near the road network. This is extremely fast to produce, which is why customers have shown a great interest and recently successfully demonstrated their ability to drive their cars using data derived from these objects.
Second, we are working on algorithms to explicitly detect and model discrete objects such as poles and walls. For this we use techniques from machine learning and point cloud analysis to enable us to detect these features even in the presence of tricky real-world situations such as sparsity, noise, and partial occlusion.
What did you dream of being when you grew up?
When I was growing up you could tell from a mile a way that I would become an engineer. I remember when I was in elementary school I built an aluminum hitch to attach a wagon to my bicycle so I could transport things to and from my friends’ houses in the neighborhood. Not long after a family friend who was in IT showed me, on our family 386 computer, how you could write some “code” in a text editor and it would get displayed as a webpage! I’ve since shifted sub-disciplines a little bit, into Electrical Engineering and then Computer Vision, but the core creation and problem solving mindset remains intact.
What’s one of the things you enjoy most about working at HERE?
The availability of resources. Whenever we have a problem, we can just fix it. The right way. No band aids. Whether that means buying hardware or hiring additional staff. You might not realize how valuable that is until you’ve worked in other environments where that is not the case!
How would you describe HERE in three words?
Well-positioned. Exciting. Focused.
Which of the HERE core values speak to you the most?
Win together. Real-world systems are complex. “Many moving parts” would be quite an understatement. If my team developed our LiDAR processing algorithms in isolation they would have no value. We have to work extremely closely with upstream teams to ensure we fully understand the data formats we will receive, along with all possible known caveats and conditions. Likewise, we have to work very closely with our downstream teams to ensure the same. We have to work with our production teams overseas to ensure we get the format, quality, and quantity of training data we need for machine learning portions of our work. At the same time, we must work closely with our product managers to ensure we are developing what our customers want. Finally, we work with our program managers to ensure things are fitting into the big picture timelines. If any one of these parts fails, we all fail. It is therefore directly in everyone’s best interest to not only do their own piece, but to identify areas for improvement and help wherever they can with any part of the process.
“Whenever we have a problem, we can just fix it. The right way. No band aids.”
What difference do you feel your team is making?
When I interviewed for my position here, I was told things like “you will be on the cutting edge,” and “you will really make a difference.” It’s not that I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t realize really how true it would turn out to be. Having not previously worked at a company of this size, I assumed I would do my job and it would hopefully be an important piece of a product. While that is definitely true, it goes much further than that. Our customers are actively developing autonomous vehicles. I have direct communication with them where they report the successes and failures of their cars using the output of our algorithms and we work together to improve them on a weekly cadence. It doesn’t get more cutting edge than that!
What do you hope to achieve at HERE?
There is no more arguing that autonomous driving is right around the corner. It’s really a rare instance when you can see a short-horizon, truly world changing technology coming. Having the opportunity to not only see it, but to be directly involved, is awesome. Being able to say “I helped enable that” when I start seeing cars driving past me whose drivers are free from the nuisance of controlling the car is really an inspiring goal. As my roles at HERE evolve and expand over time, I hope that I can continue to achieve that goal in continuously bigger and better ways.
What would you say to people looking to work at HERE?
Bring your A-game! We move fast by desire and by necessity. Rolling with the punches as things change and keeping up with the lightning-quick pace of the industry is a critical attribute for success at HERE.
HERE strives to be a leader in diversity. Do you see this happening?
It is not unusual to walk into a busy kitchen at lunchtime and hear at least three or four languages being spoken. This really speaks to the value we place on hiring the best people for the job, no matter where in the world they are from. Even with my small team of 9 engineers, we have members from China, India, Serbia, Turkey, and the United States!
How is HERE different from other places you’ve worked?
We have a very clear long-term vision. It is usually pretty obvious which things do or do not directly support that future success. I’ve also been impressed with the leadership teams. They seem to really trust their technical experts. They ask good questions, and then listen with the goal of fully understanding the issues so that they can make decisions quickly.
How would you describe your working environment?
Productive and team oriented. We keep a second chair at everyone’s desk so that it’s easy to stop by for a discussion. Our large multi-display setups make it easy to simultaneously visualize the thing you are working on as well as point at them during a group discussion without everyone hunching behind a little laptop screen.
What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?
Chicago is certainly the biggest city I’ve lived and worked in. I’m a jazz guy, so having access to tons of live music is great. There are so many things to do, from markets and festivals to museums and parks. Having easy access to all of these things makes them even more enjoyable.
What do you like to do outside of work?
My three main activities outside of work are photography, woodworking, and doing whatever my daughter is interested at any time. Currently, I play with a lot of Playdoh. It’s hard to find something that a city like Chicago does not support. There are endless photographic opportunities. Your location doesn’t matter so much for woodworking, but having some time to occasionally get out to the shop is a nicety that is afforded by the work-life balance at HERE.