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Driven to driverless

Driven to driverless

When Cindy Heredia was selecting an MBA program, she knew she desired to be on the forefront of the autonomous driving industry. While doing research, she discovered that MIT had a novel offering: a student-run driverless team. Heredia applied to MIT to affix the team, hoping to get hands-on experience.

“My hope is that we’re capable of find ways to leverage tools and technologies, similar to ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, and harness the variability of modes available to serve vulnerable populations which have traditionally been underserved by existing options,” Heredia shares.

At age 8, Heredia was immersed with cars, repairing automotive radios to assist support her family. Growing up within the low-income neighborhood of Laredo, Texas, Heredia understood mobility as a obligatory resource for greater access to employment, education, and opportunity early on in life. Her family’s sole automotive was always in use for work, making it difficult for them to satisfy essential needs similar to going to the doctor. As she grew older, she saw her friends unable to take job opportunities on account of the long bus rides that may take hours.

Getting accepted into MIT and joining the Driverless team was her first step toward repairing disparities in transportation. Under the auspices of the MIT Edgerton Center, MIT Driverless develops their very own artificial intelligence software to race in autonomous driving competitions. Leveraging talent and resources, Driverless teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and the University of Waterloo, Canada, to form MIT-PITT-RW and compete within the Indy Autonomous Challenge.

In winter 2021, Heredia became co-captain of the team. This hasn’t all the time been easy. On the Indy Autonomous Challenge in November, MIT-PITT-RW was the one entirely student-run team out of nine teams. “There have been many ‘no’s’ our team has received,” Heredia shares. “We have been told that a student-led team shouldn’t even be on the grid. We have been through a devastating crash two days before a race (that we thankfully got here back from!). We have seen teammates go. We’ve had personal life events occur. But we’ve all the time been capable of push through all of it and are available out strong. Nothing has ever brought us down.”

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An epic crash while practicing for 2023 Indy Autonomous Challenge

Developing reliable decision-making algorithms is a challenge on account of the potential for misinterpretation of sensor data, which could lead to collisions. Moreover, when traveling at speeds exceeding 150 mph, the demand for rapid decision-making intensifies, prompting teams to repeatedly enhance their technology stack. Teams like MIT-PITT-RW are pushing boundaries by testing novel algorithms at speeds deemed too hazardous for conventional roads, driving advancements across the sphere.

Despite these challenges, in January MIT-PITT-RW hit a brand new speed record of 152 mph during time trials (competing for the fastest lap time) on the Indy Autonomous Challenge and placed fourth in the general competition for the primary time. Additionally they hit one other team record of 154 mph while passing one other automotive.

Now, as she prepares to graduate along with her MBA, Heredia reflects on leading the team and stresses the importance of constructing trust between team members: “This is essentially a people role. You will have to have the opportunity to work with all various kinds of personalities. Understanding tips on how to manage your team may be very vital, and I feel that starts by first constructing trust with them. I’ve learned that the most effective solution to do this is to not ask anything of anyone that you simply wouldn’t ask of yourself. It’s one thing to inform your team, ‘You’re vital to me, and I’m here for you.’ It’s one other thing entirely to prove that repeatedly together with your actions.”

Heredia encourages other women of color to take leadership positions within the self-driving industry. “You should have to place yourself on the market, made to be seen, and never hide away. In case you’re invited right into a room, you’ve gotten to remind yourself that you simply should be in that room.” She believes there’s more support available than you may think. “There may be a surprising number of ladies of color in leadership roles at self-driving corporations, and I’m grateful to call a few of them my mentors.” 

Heredia says that anyone going into this field needs to be prepared for numerous failure. “There are moments where you’ll be able to attempt to listen as much as you’ll be able to and make a call, nevertheless it won’t be the precise one. A project like this comes with numerous risk, and having comfort knowing that it would include failures at times is critical. And that’s OK. You’ll learn essentially the most if you undergo a few of your most difficult moments. So that you reflect, pivot, and keep going. So, my advice could be to are available in with the mindset that it is a learning experience. And use that to assist people consider in what’s possible by sharing what you’ve learned along the best way.”

While many individuals predict the top of private vehicle ownership with the arrival of autonomous vehicles, Heredia believes it would be a slow and gradual process. She plans to pursue a profession within the self-driving industry, recognizing the numerous challenges it presents. In the longer term, she hopes that we may also use these technologies for social good and produce them to communities similar to the one she grew up in. “It’s an incredibly interesting problem that, I feel, still has a protracted road ahead (pun intended).”


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