Development Engineer at Volvo Group Trucks Technology.
Turn ideas into technologies and follow your passion.
 

Vivetha Natterjee helps turn ideas into technologies. The 26 year old talks to inGenious about her career so far at the Swedish vehicle manufacturer, Volvo Group, and explains how she makes choices.

What do you do?

I am a development engineer within advanced technology and research for Volvo Group Trucks Technology based in Gothenburg, a city on the west coast of Sweden, where Volvo Group has its head office.

How international is your job?

Like Volvo's products, my role is very international. My colleagues are of different ages with different levels of experience who come from all over – Europe, Australia, USA, and Asia. I also travel to different countries about four times a year for meetings and conferences and my immediate teams are diverse. You get to know the world from one place here.

What do you do and why it is of value?

I work in Volvo Group's advanced technology research team where ideas evolve into technologies. An idea comes to research and development for four to five years before it passes into product development to become a next generation technology. Right now, I am working on three different projects.

Our trucks now have pre-accident breaking systems, meaning they can stop themselves without a driver interfering when an accident is about to happen. I am involved in establishing and testing a virtual verification process. In another research project I’m responsible for the sensor fusion platform in a truck which acts as the truck’s eyes and brain. And thirdly, I am involved in managing a Volvo truck automation project - driverless trucks. It is really a wide field so even though I am new to the industry, I can work across many different areas. This is one of the reasons why I love my job.

What is your background?

I was born and brought up in Chennai, India from where I have a bachelor’s degree in electronics and telecommunications. I came to Stockholm in Sweden to pursue my masters in systems control and robotics at Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (Royal Institute of Technology). I began financing my masters myself and then got an Erasmus Mundus scholarship.

Who have been your role models?

I believe the ability to learn on the fly is key and I have learnt from the success and failure of many different people. In my family, my father, who is a mechanical engineer, saw a future in electronics and electrics: the basics of engineering. He encouraged me every step of the way, even when I left for Sweden. Where I come from, it is unusual for a father to allow his child, especially his daughter, to leave the family.

My mum is the one who helped me develop my communication skills. She motivated me to be innovative and creative; qualities you need in my role. She is an artistic person who saw no limits to my abilities. Both my parents encouraged me to develop my creative side in engineering. To me, there is as much creativity in painting as there is in designing an algorithm.

What makes you tick?

I love problem solving and seeing the result of my work. Maths was my favorite subject at school because a puzzle to be solved was in front of me, I solved it and saw the result. What could be more rewarding than seeing a good result?

When I started out, I worked in image and video processing. In that domain you see your implementation real time on a computer screen. I was fascinated by how human visual perception can be replicated in the robotics world. To understand what your eyes do, you need to think about how your brain does things. I started to work with ideas about how robot eyes perceive colour and distance – Image and Video Processing. When I started as a roboticist, instead of seeing results on my computer, I saw them in front of me, in a small robot that moved around. The Volvo truck is nothing but a big robot to me. It is just a huge mission.

How does your work impact of the world?

Statistics confirm that most vehicle accidents happen due to human errors (e.g. using mobile devices, looking away from the road etc.). A machine that is developed and trained well can help you to avoid hurting someone in unexpected situations. I like the fact that what I’m involved in saves lives inherently.

An autonomous world will also save fuel energy. There are technologies that can intimate a driver to slow down when there is dense traffic ahead. Vehicles will get lost less and will be able to travel safely in close lines, reducing air drag. Vehicle platooning is a concept that saves fuel and offers stress free driving.

What do you like most about your job?

The diversity of it, both personnel and technology wise. There is a huge field of work to choose from. You can be a developer or you can be a sensor expert working on how the truck perceives the world or you can involve yourself in management activities. It is rewarding to know what I work on will become reality. For me this is a very strong driving factor.

What are the aspects you like less?

I honestly am yet to come across something.

What does a typical day look like?

I usually arrive around 8.30am and respond to emails. In the morning we have project meetings where we meet in groups to brainstorm ideas and update each other. Then I put my development engineer hat on and start to work on systems. My job also requires hands on working in the truck which is equally important to development activities. I really enjoy being in the truck during testing. Occasionally, I travel for meetings within Gothenburg or further afield.

What qualities are essential for this role?

To excel in anything you do you should have a passion for it. I don’t plan for ten years down the line. I do what I like. If you are an innovative thinker you’ll help your company grow and grow with it. My background is not in mechanical engineering or vehicles so I had to learn things when I first started. I believe every industry co-exists. Chemistry isn’t just for chemists and neither is robotics. You can’t separate all fields. If you are a quick learner you can pace up.

How much of what you do is people facing?

Group work is 90 per cent of what I do. I work on three different projects with different people. So, I strongly disagree with the idea that engineers work alone. Yes, I use my PC a lot but I’m not always left alone. Depending on the size of the system there will be more than one person working on it. A huge amount of collaboration is required.

How geeky is your job?

Let’s not call it geeky. Yes, it demands technical work but it depends on how you perceive it. To me, it is really about how you unfold each puzzle. Almost every day I learn new things.

Is it awkward being a woman in your field?

Everything I do is unisex. Not many women have been coming into vehicle technologies but what I do isn’t so masculine. Women can do this. My previous manager was a woman and in our team of twenty, five of us are women. Volvo really motivates women to come into this field, as do other industries nowadays.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve done in your job?

A few weeks ago we tested the latest braking system of our vehicles by driving it with robots instead of a person. Basically it’s a life size balloon car and a real Volvo FH truck that were driven by steering robots. The robots were fed with instructions based on virtual simulation of the testing scenario and we validated their real time performance. Using robots instead of people to drive the vehicle means we can test the truck safely for high speeds and ensure very accurate repetition. It was very exciting as this is cutting edge technology and I was closely involved in developing it.

What’s you work-life balance like?

Standard working hours are 8.00 to 16.42, however, arrival and departure times are flexible. I mainly work in the office, but I can also work from home. In my free time I play badminton, watch crime series, read novels and hang out with friends. I like the Swedish work culture because hierarchy here is based on the knowledge you have and not the position you occupy. There is respect for good work-life balance.

What is your advice to someone choosing a career?

Follow your passion and learn to learn on the fly.

Salary

In Sweden the cost of living is high, however, even after meeting all my expenses and covering some extra activities like gym, sports and after work socializing, I am still able to save a good part of my salary.