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Shaping driving safety and comfort.

The team that Himani Porwal works in at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development India focuses on the integration of driver assistance components, such as radar sensors and cameras into our Mercedes-Benz vehicles, to make the driving assistance systems as reliable as possible. In her interview, she reveals why she feels that she's in the right place, which skills help her with her professional goals now and what she would most likely do in a vehicle if it drives autonomously one day.

Himani, as a Product Design Engineer in the Driver Assistance Integration Team, you are responsible for sensors on bumpers, radiator grilles and lateral crossmembers for driving assistance systems. How important is the correct positioning of sensors?

Our customers expect functions that they can rely on to enjoy comfortable and luxurious driving focussing on safety. The sensors are involved in specific functions such as at the lane change assistant. This function helps the driver when changing lanes on freeways. Our radar sensors can detect things in the blind spot and inform the driver. If the positioning of the sensor in the bumper was incorrect, the driver would potentially not be warned. It could also lead to the system falsely showing that there is an object nearby. Therefore, we are responsible for the right sensor positioning and the functions that our customers expect from Mercedes-Benz.

"I really enjoy collaborating on forward-looking ideas."
"I really enjoy collaborating on forward-looking ideas."

What are your specific tasks?

In my job, I am involved in the project, starting from the design concept phase. We validate the sensor Integration and functional Integration at each design phase. With every new generation of assistance systems, the effort of the sensor variants, and therefore also the complexity in functional integration, only increases. I am mainly involved in the early development phase, where I only see the digital vehicle. Here, I work together with the Design department and the suppliers to ensure the sensor position.

You have been working in the Research and Development department of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bangalore since 2019. Do you work with many units and departments?

I work with many cross-functional teams including Design, Simulation, testing, Mechatronics and with suppliers – for example with colleagues who build bumpers for us, who carry out simulations, e.g. electromagnetic and vibration simulations, and help us validate our digital body.

Is the collaboration also international?

Yes, that makes the job so special. We collaborate with different plants and our suppliers are globally located. While we work digitally from India, our involvement exceeds further and is quite international. This year, I spent a few months in Germany. In my opinion, that's the best part of international collaboration! The Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen enabled me to see the sensor positioning in real life. If we are faced with challenges during the construction phase of a vehicle, we physically check whether the sensor fits in the holder or is correctly positioned. That happens in Germany, which is why we also work internationally. For me personally, this was a particularly great experience. I have worked together with many German colleagues before, but I had only seen them in video conferences. Meeting them in person makes a huge difference. You build a connection, which makes future contact easier. For me, the insight into German work culture was extremely profitable on both a professional and a personal level.

What insights did you gain during your visit at the Sindelfingen plant?

I was involved in various vehicle builds, gained experience at the plant and took part in testing Trials. So, I have definitely gained a deeper understanding of my work. Even though I knew what I was doing, I didn't know what my work looked like in real life since I'd only ever seen it on a screen until then. My visit therefore provided me with great practical experience.

What do you love most about your work?

I like the aspect of contributing to the bigger picture. Automated driving is the "next big thing". We are advancing with progressing technology towards innovation, sustainability, fully automated driving, etc.; my work profile is directly related to these areas. They still have so much potential! This will keep developing. What I enjoy most is that my work provides me with a platform for further development opportunities. That means I'm never at a standstill; I continue to learn and grow. I'm always talking to a wide range of people from different areas, discovering what they do and learning new things. I then decide what I want to learn more about, and which areas interest me. I have access to every resource and can independently make good decisions!

"For me, the insight into German work culture was extremely profitable on both a professional and a personal level".
"For me, the insight into German work culture was extremely profitable on both a professional and a personal level".

You studied Industrial and Production Technology in Mysore (India). Where does your interest in technology come from?

As a child, I liked to go by train. My interest in the development of technology was born when my school class took a field trip to a railway museum, in which many old trains were exhibited. Additionally, creating value happens to be my main goal. This led to my interest in the automotive industry as well as in industrial and production engineering. I envisioned that I could have a visible and tangible influence here and that “my product” would directly reach customers. Mercedes-Benz then was a guest at my university and I learned more about the company, so I wanted to work there. Luckily, it came true.

Within your team in Bangalore, you are in charge of the integration of driver assistance components such as cameras and radars. What does your team look like? How do you work together?

Essentially, all components have to be in combination since they communicate with each other to provide the necessary functional output. If a single component fails, we fail together as a team. We therefore depend on each other, even if we don't directly work together. For instance, a colleague works on cameras, while I work on radar sensors. We have to interact a lot, since all components are attached to the bumper, but two sensors can't be too close to each other. While I position my radar sensor, another colleague may position their parking sensor: The camera has particular strengths in object classification, radar sensors are particularly good at detecting speed differences. There are still more driver assistance components on the same bumper. Together, we ensure that all requirements are met. We work together on every vehicle in an agile way. For instance, if I'm working on a vehicle model series at the project level, then I work closely together a team member who is working on a different sensor, but on the same vehicle model series. What I really enjoy is collaborating and being part of ideation marathons, on forward-looking ideas. Innovation is very much encouraged, which helps us to see beyond our own tasks. Working in a team that strives for peak performance helps me push my limits.

You received a full scholarship through the CSR initiative "Mercedes in Mech" from Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India (MBRDI) and started your first full-time job following a traineeship. How important was this support for you?

It provided me with a great start! It gave my career a push right when I was choosing my future professional field. During our second year, Mercedes-Benz introduced us to "Mercedes in Mech" on campus in order to encourage women to join the mechanical field. I then did an internship in the company and was suggested as one of six classmates for the two-year scholarship programme. From day one, I received good mentoring. That enabled me to better assimilate the corporate culture and processes of Mercedes-Benz. Following that, there was an opportunity for a full-time job. The opportunity presented itself at the right time and with the right people!

During your studies, you worked for the non-profit organisation "Make a Difference" to provide education to children in emergency shelters. How important was volunteering for you and how did it influence your personal development?

I started volunteering immediately during my first year at university. I was privileged enough to receive an education, but there are millions of children in India who do not have that opportunity. Of course, you can't change everything in a day, but you can personally contribute something that may create success later. During the first two years, I was a volunteer teaching assistant, which meant I taught English, Maths and Science to children between grades 5 and 10. We mostly helped the children with learning, but we also provided emotional and psychological support. In grade 10, we helped them with exams and career choices. Some of them got back in touch and let us know what they were doing now. I didn't make any monetary donations during my time at "Make a Difference" – I only contributed my time, my way of thinking and my knowledge, thereby contributing to the bigger picture. During those five years, I also built up my own skills. For instance, I trained other volunteers. The organisation is very large; it operates in 14 states and 23 cities in India. It was like being part of a real company. I gained leadership capabilities as well as presentation and project management skills. I learned how to manage volunteers, lead a project or a team and resolve conflicts. Indirectly, this was a huge help for my personal development.

Which personal goal would you still like to achieve?

My biggest personal goal is a combination of project management and a leadership role, in which I can be close to the topic, know what happens from beginning to end, and work together with my team on the implementation of an objective. That is what I would like to achieve in due course.

Last question: When level-4 automated driving becomes standard on the street, what will you usually be doing during the ride?

I would probably lean back and create travel plans during the drive because I love to travel. I would be looking up sites and restaurants that I can visit, since I'm also a foodie (laughs). Putting together travel routes is a real passion of mine. Or I would spend a lot of time creating a bucket-list of things I still want to do.

For her job at Mercedes-Benz India, Himani Porwal moved from Mysore in southern India, where she grew up with two siblings and studied Industrial and Production engineering, to Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. A four-month assignment at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen in 2023 was her first stay abroad. During that time, she not only crossed two things off her bucket list – skydiving and scuba diving – but also used every weekend and day off to travel and, in addition to Germany, also discovered France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. She was sometimes accompanied by friends studying or working in Europe or by co-workers on her travels. For Himani, travelling is first and foremost an opportunity to meet people. She'll certainly manage that on her next planned trip: a trekking tour around the lakes of Kashmir in northern India.