Motional is making driverless vehicles a safe, reliable, and accessible reality.
We connected with Anne Collin, Senior Research Scientist, of Motional to get an inside look at the company's technology, various projects, the team's culture, and more.
Quick Hit Details
- Year Founded: 2020
- Number of employees: 800+
- Number of engineers: 400+
- Industry: Autonomous Vehicles
Can you share a summary on what Motional does?
Motional is building robo-taxis to provide safe, reliable and accessible options for transportation.
The Rulebooks team, which I am a part of, specifies and assesses the behavior of our autonomous vehicle. We translate potentially vague or conflicting traffic laws and other, sometimes vague, notions of what constitutes good driving into formal rules that our vehicle needs to take into account when driving. We also provide quantitative metrics to score our driving, like the examiner at your driving test!
What are some of the different technologies that the engineering team gets to work with and at what scale?
Our team specifically uses Python to implement, test and use our rules, with Bitbucket for version control and Docker for usage of the code in different pipelines.
Since we, at Motional, build the entire stack for the autonomous vehicle, the spectrum of tools used in the entire engineering team is very wide. Some teams deal with embedded software tools directly, while others build the front-end for internal visualization tools.
What are some of the interesting projects that the engineering team is tackling?
There are a lot of interesting problems that come with designing an autonomous vehicle! One of them for our team is to understand what constitutes a good driver. Teams working on the vehicle stack are solving challenging problems, for instance how to detect objects around the vehicle with high confidence, how to predict the behavior of other road users, or how to plan our vehicle trajectory in dynamic environments.
Does your engineering team have a chance to work on projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities?
An entire team in engineering is working on strategic research projects, to enable us to drive in a growing number of environments. We also have another team dedicated to manage our dataset nuScenes, to enable access to more training data for other people who want to design self driving systems, and to ensure a higher level of safety across the industry.
Many employees in the engineering team have spent a good amount of time in academia, so research happens across the full gamut of the development cycle.
What is the culture like at Motional for the engineering team?
I believe that the culture is very engaging. People who work here are not only really good at what they do on a technical level, they also are very benevolent, and it feels like we’re all trying to figure out together this problem that no company has managed to solve yet.
What can a potential employee expect during the interview process?
It depends on the team, but our process is fairly standard; after a first interview with a recruiter, there is a technical interview, to test skills that are relevant for the position considered. Then, there is an onsite (virtual now) with members of the team to assess technical and cultural fit, and to give the interviewee an opportunity to engage with their potential future colleagues.
Are you involved in any local tech organizations or Meetups?
I am part of the Women in Autonomy group, that enables connections between women in the field.
Rapid Fire Q&A
What’s on tap?
We just had a virtual beer tasting from a local brewery, with all the background on beer making, so plenty of choices: Vienna Lager, Gose, IPA and Porter - all are welcome!
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Which one has the most reasonable autonomous vehicles?
iPhone or Android?
In the team it’s probably a mix.
Coffee - hot or iced?
Hot, there is a really nice coffee machine in the office!
Favorite employee perk?
The catered lunches are a really nice way to catch up with teams you might not interact with otherwise.
What TV show describes the engineering team’s culture?
I’d say Parks and Recs, for the diversity of viewpoints and the mutual respect between team members.
What music is playing in your office?
Right now each chooses their playlist at home, but our edm Slack channel stays active!
View from your office
Cleanest desk / Messiest desk
Hard to see people’s desks from Zoom, but here is mine, and I’ll let the world decide which category it falls into!
The Rulebooks team has a pretty diverse set of backgrounds! Our team lead, Radboud Tebbens, has been using mathematical modeling to improve societal outcomes for a while, but before joining our AV company, he was doing it to support decisions in vaccination and global health. He made key policy recommendations in that domain.
Amitai Bin-Nun, a senior research scientist in the team, is an astrophysicist and was also, among other experiences, an associate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.