Pau is the Immense teams’ solutions engineer, part-time photographer for the team and has also just officially become Dr Pau after finishing his PhD in Decentralised Multi-Robot Task Allocation.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what do you do at Immense?
I am a Solutions Engineer, I look after the algorithms in our platform. The applications team come up with problems that we want to solve, while in solutions we find -or come up with- the algorithms that we need to solve them.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We have the scrum every day to update the team, then I get cracking!
My work goes in cycles, in one part of the cycle I’m usually hiding in a corner reading and trying to understand literature or trying to understand what algorithms we need. Then, in the other part of the cycle, I’m at my desk implementing those solutions and testing them with the rest of the simulator.
What would you say is the most difficult part of the job?
It is striking a balance! You can spend days looking at the literature and that can save you weeks of code optimisations. Or you can spend weeks chasing the literature that could be sorted in a few days of code optimisations. So, striking that balance is the hardest part of the job. Because you only know what the right balance was after you’ve done it.
How did you come to work at Immense?
I was contacted by Immense, at the time I was finishing my PhD in fleet optimisation algorithms, writing a thesis on how to control autonomous fleets and drones. They had a very similar problem: a fleet of autonomous vehicles that had to cooperate. So, the math was the same! The thing that attracted me the most was the team, I saw there was potential in the people, there was calibre. I thought that they were onto something exciting. I was employee number 7!
What’s it been like working for Immense from its inception to now?
I have learnt a lot! Seeing the system from an embryonic stage to something that actually does what is supposed to and does it well, it’s very nice! It gives us pride, it’s very rewarding! Sometimes you can feel you are a hamster in a wheel, not getting anywhere with some code issues or a tough problem. But seeing what the system was like and what it is now, and how the team have worked together, is pretty impressive!
Tell me about your previous work at Airbus, it sounds amazing!
I was working on a mission called Solar Orbiter that Airbus was building for the European Space Agency. It is a spacecraft which is going to be launched next year and its main goal is to study the sun. It was meant to become, for a brief period, mankind’s closest object to the sun at about a third of the way between us and the sun. However, delays meant that the Americans launched first their Parker Solar Probe and it will get closer sooner. The team I worked on developed the guidance, navigation, and control algorithms for Solar Orbiter. These are in charge of steering the spacecraft, for example, to make sure that it is always pointing towards the sun so that the heat shield can adequately protect it and it does not burn up. I was there for a brief period, and my work was building additions to the spacecraft’s simulation model. This simulation was then used to test the whole Attitude and Orbit Control System end to end.
What did you want to do when you were younger, did you always want to get into engineering?
My father is an engineer, he gave me that passion for how things work and why they work. I always wanted to work out how things worked and why they worked. I remember my father teaching me these things. I always found myself fascinated at how we can create amazing things by an intelligent combination of some rather simple things. When I was young, I was always taking things apart and, often, I was breaking them. I also remember going to my father’s lab and him showing me how the automatic milling machines would work. I would do little designs in CAD and he would print them and cut them into things, that was cool! My father really nurtured my passion.
What’s been your biggest career achievement?
The thing I’m most proud of is finishing my PhD. The people I was showing, the experts were hugely knowledgeable in the area of my thesis. And seeing that they got it and thought it was interesting was what I am most proud of. It is not a race, it’s a marathon, it’s about not giving up.
What advice would you give to those thinking about going into the engineering sector?
I would say, I don’t think there is a cooler job than engineering. You can either talk about stuff or build stuff, and engineers build stuff. I think I ended up in software because with software you can build some of mankind’s most complicated systems. It is very impressive, and only as an engineer do you get to do all these fun things. There may be other vocations; doctors and teachers for example which are rewarding, but if you are driven by curiosity and have an enquiring mind, I think engineering is your place.
Some of the work Immense does is linked to the roll out of Electric Vehicles and Autonomous Vehicles. How important do you think they are to the future of mobility? How will they shape the future of mobility?
There are three separate, orthogonal concepts: Electric Vehicles, Autonomous Vehicles, and MaaS. But they all interact with each other. I think the future will be people using some sort of Transportation as a Service. When will that become mainstream? I do not know, but I think it will. Just considering that there are millions of cars sitting in car parks, depreciating in value every day. It is such a waste, both of land, in the best places of towns and cities, and of capital. I think it is just a matter of time before MaaS and TaaS become more mainstream. With autonomy, it is a very safety critical technology, and the problem is that it is inherently hard to test, and it is difficult to prove correct and safe. And even though most of the technological hurdles can be solved, in my view, the greatest effort will be how to convince the public and regulators that they are safe. Specially in the context of the inevitable accidents that will happen as the roll-out increases, and with the public holding the technology to a much higher standard than they hold human drivers nowadays. But I do think it’ll be solved, and once that’s done it will be a fantastic thing for society. People who would otherwise not be able to drive, say Grandpas or Grandmas, will be able to go wherever they want and won’t have to rely on someone else. We would be able to re-purpose all these wasted space in car parks that we have now. We don’t have a nice green space around our office here because it is all a big car park, and that is a waste.
To me, the greatest thing is not getting in a car that can drive itself, but the consequences of unlocking the potential and resources which will come from autonomy.
When you’re not working what are your hobbies and interests?
I like travelling with my wife and photography. I love skiing as well, but not as often as I would like to as the UK doesn’t have lots of mountains. I love reading, I have something with physical books, I buy too many. I buy them faster than I can read, and the stacks grow faster than I can consume it.
If you were stuck on desert island and could take three things with you what would they be?
A shelf full of books and enough water and food to survive and wait until I’m rescued. Although a satellite phone would help!
You can find out more about Immense and our exciting new beta launch here.