Automated driving needs tangible functions.
Her department connects the development of vehicle functions and their integration into the model series – specifically via the central control, synchronisation, and integration of all the electrical and electronic functions for automated driving. Yixiao Wang has been a new member of the Autonomous Driving System Integration team at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen for a few months now. In her interview, the Chinese-born electrical engineer reveals what brought her from the field of academic research to Mercedes-Benz and what excites her about the system integration of assistance functions.
Yixiao, you are a development engineer and are jointly responsible for the electrics and electronics needed for automated driving. Your unit is in charge of the integration of functions into new electrical and electronic architectures. That sounds very complicated.
That's right! In our capacity as an interface, we communicate with various specialist departments. Personally, I'm in charge of what we call the pre-integration of individual driving assistance functions into the new model series with the MB.OS electrical and electronic architecture. We make sure that the customer can then use these functions in the vehicle intuitively and without prior knowledge. So, we're actually one of the first to help bring these features to life in new model series. Our job is to ensure that these systems interact smoothly. In order to integrate these assistance functions, you have to bring together a lot of different interfaces. It's great.
As the vehicle becomes an "intelligent partner", cameras, sensors, and control units need to be intelligently linked. What does this actually mean for the integration of these systems?
Our job starts in the development phase and extends all the way to production. One example is the tyre pressure that should be displayed in the Hyperscreen, which we call our big display in the dashboard. To do this, we discuss this with our colleagues from the specialist department responsible for that function and test it in the vehicle. We accompany the development cycle checking that the function works as it should until it's finally fully integrated.
You're responsible for the system integration of functions for enhanced driving assistance systems, but you're also a product owner. What specific tasks are you responsible for?
For example, I'm responsible for the Emergency Steering Support (ESS) function, which should warn the driver of things like potential collisions. I make sure that the customer gets to experience these assistance systems. This means that I analyse the process and check whether it's complete, whether all the system functions involved have been taken into account, and if the required information is available. I then define test scenarios that we work through either with a simulation tool or on the vehicle directly. They're really all exciting tasks, because I get to learn a lot about the vehicle. As a product owner in Pre-Integration Automated Driving, I help collect data from various sources and visualise it in front-end dashboards to help advance digitalisation for tooling. For example, we set up a dashboard to make all important dates accessible to the system integrators in one central location. The dashboard made this information easily accessible and was a big help in our day-to-day work. I work in a very interdisciplinary way with internal and external colleagues alike.
Which skills can you apply particularly well to these tasks?
The most important thing for me as a product owner is that I understand the different tools. Thanks to my extensive research experience, I'm quick to gain a certain level of understanding of new topics. For each task, the objectives need to be clearly defined and the acceptance criteria precisely detailed. This is where my systematic and analytical approach come in handy.
Your unit oversees the time schedule for the implementation of features and system functions for fully automated driving SAE level 5. Which units are you in direct contact with for this purpose?
In our job as system integrators, we work with all specialist departments – it just depends on the functions that we're focusing on. By analysing the process chain, we identify the system functions and the corresponding contact persons who can help with the integration. These colleagues often come from the other units such as Telematics, Powertrain, and Body. In addition, we also work closely with our colleagues from the model series.
What professional backgrounds do your team colleagues have?
Besides electrical engineering, some colleagues also studied mechanical engineering or computer science and have a lot of professional experience from working in different areas. With our knowledge, which includes software development, we provide advice and support to new colleagues who come to us straight from university. We also bring our valuable know-how gained through experience abroad into the team, which makes working together both diverse and exciting. Whether it's on site at the vehicle or from home on a laptop – our team is very flexible and we work on a wide range of topics.
As an exchange student from China, you studied electrical engineering at Leibniz University in Hanover. What attracted you to the course of study?
Technology along with mathematics and physics have fascinated me since my school days in China. For me, it was clear that I would head in this direction with my studies. I find it fascinating to program, control, automate, and regulate technical processes, especially in the context of smart and intelligent functions. I also went to Berkeley in the USA for an exchange semester to broaden my horizons. In engineering fields like mechanical or electrical engineering, the work there is very theoretical and "in-depth"; Here in Germany, the focus tends to be more on application-oriented research for technical fields.
After your studies, you stayed on at Leibniz University as a research assistant and carried out research into optoelectronics, electronic packaging, and microproduction technology. What brought you to the automotive industry in 2018?
Achieving what we wanted with our research project on large-scale optoelectronic sensor networks (e.g. consisting of laser diodes) felt like it was a long way off – as is so often the case in research. Although that was a lot of fun, I wanted to do something practical next and to actually see some tangible results. The automotive industry was an obvious choice. Even though I've changed industries, I can still draw a lot from research in terms of content. I'm still in the engineering field, so a lot of the principles haven't changed. For me, it was a personal challenge to get out of my scientific comfort zone. But I think it's cool to make something that can be experienced in the car straight away.
And what sets Mercedes-Benz apart as an employer for you?
At Mercedes-Benz you have a wide variety of tasks – you're always going to find something that allows you to showcase your talents and to develop yourself further! In the beginning, I worked in the research unit at Future Technologies. That was a very good way for me to transition from university to industry. But then I wanted to really get to know the vehicle and so I switched to development, where I'm now able to do very vehicle-specific work in series production development.
Last but not least, we have a slightly different question: No matter how digital your everyday work is, what should still take place wihtout the help of digitalization?
I still want to see my colleagues in the office and in person, every now and then. On those days, we always have a coffee or go to lunch together. Having a chat about how everyone`s doing or what's new is important to me. It should always be possible to engage in "non-digital dialogue" with each other. It is great that we have a hybrid working model here, which is amazing regarding work-life balance.
Yixiao was born and raised in Cixi, Zhejiang Province, China. At the end of 2007, she came to Germany to continue her studies in electrical engineering at the Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts and then completed her Master's degree at Leibniz University in Hanover. She completed her doctorate there and continued as a research assistant until 2018, when she joined Mercedes-Benz as a development engineer and moved to Sindelfingen with her husband, whom she met during her studies. She is a mother of a one-year-old daughter who is keeping her so busy at the moment that she has no time for any hobbies. But it's only a matter of time before the young family sets off again on their beloved journeys to spectacular landscapes. Yixiao has already travelled to Iceland and the big national parks in the USA such as Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, and has spent many nights waiting for the aurora borealis in Alaska.