Zhongyuan Li, a dual degree masters student in CEE and Technology Ventures, spent his summer as a software engineer at the Silicon Valley startup Turboroto, where he worked on self-driving vehicles.
CEE: Tell us about the work you are doing for Turboroto.
Currently I am designing mechanical parts for the light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system used in automated-driving vehicles. LiDAR is a remote sensing method that measures the distance to a target.
With LiDAR, the vehicle knows the distance between it and the surroundings and may possibly know the details of the surroundings. I use numerical simulation tools to verify the stress distribution and reliability of the mechanical parts. My role is to ensure that the mechanical part of the LiDAR system works well with the other parts.
In addition, I am involved in data processing and will engage in software design after several months.
CEE: Did any particular CEE classes help to prepare you for this experience?
Many of the CEE classes that I took are helpful for my work. For example, Finite Elements in Mechanics taught by Professor Jacobo Bielak improved my skills for finite element analysis, which is the core part of my work at Turboroto.
The class BIM for Engineering, Construction and Facility Management taught by Professor Xuesong Liu introduced the application of LiDAR in the civil industry, and I was fascinated with the technology.
Fundamental Python Prototyping for Infrastructure Systems, also taught by Professor Liu, helped me develop my fundamental skills for Python programming, while Data-Driven Building Energy Management (Professor Mario Berges) and Sensing and Data Mining for Smart Structures and Systems (Professor Hae Young Noh) taught me about data processing and machine learning.
The CEE program has offered great courses for my future career in Silicon Valley.
CEE: What aspect of your internship have you enjoyed the most?
My favorite part of the experience is that it is interdisciplinary. This is my first time working beyond civil engineering, and I currently work with an electrical engineer, optical engineer and computer engineer. The CEE program has enabled me to learn and work beyond the civil industry, an experience that will broaden my horizons.
CEE: What has been the most surprising or unexpected aspect of your experience?
The culture in Silicon Valley is the most surprising. I used to think it is very difficult to find civil engineering internships in Silicon Valley. After I came here, I found that many opportunities are available – many companies are hiring civil engineers, like Tesla.
In addition, many startups like Turboroto are hiring people who know the finite element method and data science, whatever their majors are.
In Silicon Valley, your major field isn’t the most important thing when you are looking for a job. People care more about what you can do and the passion you put into the job.
CEE: How has this internship influenced your career goals?
During this internship, I have been able to develop a better understanding of the LiDAR system and how to utilize those data. It is a lot of fun to think more about how LiDAR can work with structures.
The ecosystem in Silicon Valley and my second MS program for technology ventures has taught me more about how to set up a startup. I hope to start my own companies and use BIM technology in the civil industry for my future career.