Safety at Scale: GM’s Ankur Ganguli

Image of Ankur Ganguli

By: Daniel P. Dern

When you make technology components that millions of human lives will depend on, meeting both schedules and final operating safety are, to say the least, essential. This is the responsibility shouldered by Ankur Ganguli, executive director of Vehicle Motion Embedded Controls at General Motors Co.

"My team works on the embedded controls that go into the propulsion and chassis systems (e.g., engines, transmissions, electric batteries and motors, brakes, steering and suspensions) for our full portfolio of cars and trucks—millions of vehicles every year," says Ganguli.

Ganguli has about 2,000 people on her team and "we work and coordinate with thousands of people across dozens of organizations and other teams to integrate the controls that we develop. We have to deliver safety criticality like that of aerospace systems at the product-development pace of smartphones and video games."

Ganguli was prepared for her role by an educational background that combined mechanical, computer, and electrical engineering. "I got my mechanical engineering BE from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, and both my master's and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from University of Minnesota. My Ph.D. focused on intelligent vehicle controls and I have the very rare privilege of getting to work on mass commercialization of these technologies, thanks to how fast they are evolving from early research to mass adoption."

"The first half of my career was mostly in early-concept development, like working with demonstration-type vehicles in ARPA and other industry challenges…. and since then, commercialization and productionization, across industries—for example, I worked in aerospace where we did certification of software with the FAA."

Variety also helped prepare her. "Seek out people with different experiences, different ways of thinking, and diverse backgrounds to work with. I've been fortunate to work with leaders from companies with very strong and different corporate cultures and business processes. I learned technology leadership from Honeywell and UTC, business operations from GE, process rigor from Boeing...and at General Motors, managing scale and complexity," says Ganguli.

Ganguli advises engineers to keep up to date: "One mentor told me, 'Never put away your engineering books,' " says Ganguli. "To which I add, always seek to stay current on the bleeding edge of technology in your domain, whether your current role is technical or in management."

One perk of working at GM is the chance to try out her team's code in real vehicles. "We have awesome proving grounds where the vehicles get tested—so we get to experience as drivers and riders all the ones and zeros we have been creating in the computer." But at home, Ganguli notes, "I refrain from testlike driving in my 2021 Chevy Blazer SUV—because, among other reasons, I have a teenage daughter who watches every move I make and wants to replicate everything I do!"

"My next goals are contributing to solutions for the big societal challenges. For example, GM is taking a leadership role in shaping the environment and society through its zero, zero, zero vision—zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion," she says.

This article appears in the September 2021 print issue as "Safety at Scale."

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 24 August 2021.