INTERFACE Q+A: An Autonomous Tech Leader, Inspired by “Knight Rider”

Hong Bae, our Director of Advanced Drive Assistance Systems (ADAS) & Self-Driving, talks about the unique possibilities and challenges of autonomous driving technology — and how an ’80s TV show inspired his approach.

The fantasy of self-driving cars has been around for almost as long as there have been cars, themselves. In a 1918 Scientific American article entitled “Car of the Future,” the writer asks that if “the engine starts and… stops itself, why shouldn’t it steer the car?”

We’ve come a long way since the age of aspirational world’s fair displays — and while completely self-driving cars aren’t available just yet, autonomous driving technology has been implemented on our roads for years. We spoke with a pioneer in the ADAS field, Hong Bae to better understand the promise of what the near future holds, and what drives his passion for this next big leap in human mobility.

To start, could you tell us a bit about your background?

I studied mechanical engineering in college and grad school, eventually earning a PhD in the subject from Stanford University. Before joining Faraday Future, I was the Director of Electrical Engineering at Fisker Automotive. There, I oversaw all aspects of electrical engineering development, including their ADAS systems — the technologies that adapt and automate vehicle processes to ensure safer driving. Before that, I worked in General Motors’ R&D department.

What is your proudest accomplishment prior to joining Faraday Future?

While at GM, I had the opportunity to work alongside Carnegie Mellon on the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge — a self-driving vehicle race across a complex city landscape. As lead engineer on the project, I collaborated with some of the latest technologies and best minds in the field to develop “Boss” — the vehicle that eventually won the competition.

What drew you to ADAS and self-driving technology?

I’ve always loved cars and, funny enough, had an early obsession with the TV show, Knight Rider. In that show, David Hasselhoff’s car, “KITT,” seemed to be the ultimate goal: to have a car with an AI that you could talk to, that would protect you, and that you could really trust. [A scale model of KITT still hangs by his desk.]

I originally attended school to study internal combustion engines. But, in my last undergraduate semester, I took an elective Controls class led by an incredibly enthusiastic, forward-thinking professor and soon fell in love with the pursuit of new, innovative interactions between drivers and vehicles.

Why is ADAS technology so important to you?

Self-driving vehicles will change our entire experience with self-transportation. From a broader perspective, it allows the ultimate freedom: to travel independently, on your own terms. Now, everyone can have mobility, including those who were previously unable to drive — not just those privileged with cars and driver’s licenses.

It allows us the option to either take the wheel or lay back and relax. We’re not trying to erase the act of driving altogether, but instead allow for a new kind of personal agency on the road — we’ll no longer be slaves to our commutes.

How will society be affected, as a whole?

It will change so much. The environment, for one. Today’s car is inherently wasteful — on average, it spends 90% of its time parked! If you consider this issue globally, it adds up to waste on a colossal scale. However, autonomous vehicles can reverse that statistic, with the ability to be active up to 90% of the time.

Autonomous technology won’t only change the way cars are designed and operated — it will change the way cities are built! If cars don’t have to spend so much time sitting idle in clustered locations, then parking lots could become a thing of the past. All that space wasted downtown could be opened up to make way for parks, community centers, and places of commerce.

How do you personally approach the engineering of ADAS technology?

Technology, by design, needs to be effortless — almost magic. If you have to constantly pay attention to how something works and micromanage it, then it’s simply not good technology. I strive to keep the user’s experience of any feature at the forefront — we have to make sure that the technology is shaped around their needs, to make sure it doesn’t lose that magic.

That said, we have to be careful. It must be absolutely safe, absolutely trustworthy and dependable. We are working to both dramatically reduce the number of car accidents and the severity of them.

What is one of the biggest challenges facing ADAS technology today?

One major challenge is that in really, really bad weather — like turbulent storms or heavy snow — sensors can have trouble operating at optimal levels. On paper, that sounds scary — but just because you’re partially blindfolded doesn’t mean that you can’t navigate safely at a reduced pace. You just have to move more cautiously.

Autonomous vehicles will be able to communicate with one another; they’ll be able to track each others’ location and leverage GPS information to traverse these low-visibility environments with relative ease. These vehicles will offer a vast number of redundancies, so that they still operate safely, no matter what the world throws at them.

How important is function redundancy when ensuring the safety of this technology?

Multiple layers of redundancies are not just important — they’re a must. No matter the conditions, you have to make sure a vehicle will be able to safely transport its passengers. This is why our cars will feature a combination of onboard sensors featuring fundamentally different duties and physics — such as image processing, radio waves, and sound waves.

It’s layered contingencies like this that make planes so safe, even though they’ve been primarily operated with autopilot systems for years now. We trust technology to fly us across the world — the next step is to trust it to drive us to the store.

What’s the best thing about working at Faraday Future?

At Faraday Future, we’re given the opportunity to experiment more, and fail early. At other OEMs, sometimes failure can be discouraged at all costs, but here, we’re encouraged to cut our teeth with new tech. After all, if you’re not making a mistake here or there, then you aren’t really trying anything new.

If you look at traditional carmakers, they have a lot of cars that they have to sell, a lot of history to build upon, and they’re trying to implement this technology into vehicles that are not necessarily designed for it. Our platform was engineered from the ground up to incorporate this technology most effectively, most organically. This company’s vision is fundamentally built upon the need for autonomous vehicles — that level of dedication really inspired me, and still does.



Faraday Future is a global intelligent mobility ecosystem company

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