As Velodyne LiDAR rapidly accelerates production, the world leader in 3D real-time perception systems for autonomous vehicles recently welcomed five new executives to key positions across the company. With a goal of increasing production capacity to over a million sensors in 2018, these new leaders will focus on increasing the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles, while propelling consumer adoption. The 360 Blog recently met with these new hires to learn more about them.
Mircea Gradu, PhD, Senior Vice President of Validation
Since a young age, despite being raised in a family of doctors, Mircea has considered himself a car guy. Today he owns a collector 911 Porsche Carrera 3.2 and has driven many famous race tracks, including Nurburgring, Balocco, Mid-Ohio, Nelson Ledges, and Streets of Willow. During such international adventures, it certainly helps that Mircea is fluent in four languages—German, English, French, and Romanian. His fifth fluency is the automotive industry. For the past 25 years, Mircea has been a leader in major developments for companies like Timken, Chrysler, and Hyundai, including fuel economy, electrification, capability, and performance. Now he can work on autonomy.
“What more could I wish for as an engineer?” says Mircea, who was named one of the 50 most influential automotive executives by Motor Trend in 2012 and received the SAE Ed Cole Award for Innovation. “By joining Velodyne, I’m in the heart of the autonomous revolution and working with CEO David Hall—one of the few CEO’s in the world that can mentor you on all aspects of the products.” Assuming the position of Senior Vice President of Validation, Mircea will lead efforts to design, develop, and manufacture world-class products aligned with international quality standards. But his passion for autonomy goes beyond just the automotive industry. “I’m an avid kite surfer and mountain biker,” says Mircea. “So, I dream of gliding seamlessly over waves and rocks with an active suspension that adjusts to the surface using lidar technology.”
Frank Blohm, Chief Operating Officer
Previously in the General Manager position at Velodyne, Frank steps into the role of COO with a history of being the ultimate team player. As an Executive Vice President at Extreme Networks, Frank was known for “bleeding purple” as their longest-standing executive after logging a 14-year tenure. In six short months at Velodyne, Frank has already created world-class supply chain infrastructure, overhauled production capabilities, and increased output by 500 percent. “The talent we are attracting is unbelievable,” says Frank. “This will ensure that Velodyne maintains its innovation leadership role for years to come.” As a hands-on leader, Frank’s focus is equally split between operations and individuals. “I like to have conversations with everyone in the organization, from security guards to the directors on the board. I’m passionate about diversity programs, and I co-launched the Diversity and Women’s Leadership Program at Extreme Networks. I hope to foster a fun and inclusive environment where people want to go above and beyond.”
Pablo Gonzalez, PhD, Vice President of Robotics and Automation Engineering
Early in his career, Pablo wrote his first software program for a robotic-controlled system and realized he had the power to move things with just a few lines of code. This experience sparked a passion for automation that has spanned over three decades. Holding more than 100 patents across the semiconductor, medical, and solar industries, Pablo’s latest challenge as Vice President of Robotics and Automation Engineering is making the Velodyne Megafactory a lights-out facility. In the short term, Pablo is focused on assembling a world-class team of talented engineers. “Creating high-capacity factories from empty buildings and developing automation equipment isn’t easy,” says Pablo. “It will require help from everyone [at Velodyne] to push the boundaries of manufacturing capacity.” Fortunately, Pablo’s last stop at Tesla—developing equipment and automation from scratch to make solar cells and modules—has perfectly prepared him to lead this task.
T.R. Ramachandran, Vice President of Product Management
When most people want to learn something new, like a language or skill, they take a class. T.R. started the company Kanvz. With a background in hardware, T.R. saw it as the best way to develop his software skills while expanding his direct start-up experience. This entrepreneurial spirit perfectly situates T.R. to head the new division of product management. “Velodyne is at an inflection point,” says T.R. “Poised for substantial growth in a very compelling market. There are scale challenges we’ll need to address—something that I particularly enjoy solving.” Another passion for T.R. is innovation, with nanorobotics being part of his PhD work. “Joining Velodyne is great, because it allows me to leverage my experiences in hardware and software, smaller and larger companies.” T.R.’s breadth of interests spans the humanitarian realm as well. “Velodyne products have the potential to save lives, reduce injuries, save consumers money, and increase individual productivity. That said, I understand the potential implication for jobs. I’m interested in advancing public policy to retrain workers, who may be impacted by a shift to autonomous vehicles, and create new career paths.”
Matt Tenuta, Vice President of Product Engineering
Assuming the position of VP of Product Engineering, Matt arrives to the company particularly focused on the end-user experience. “Velodyne LiDAR sensors are the common denominator across the majority of vehicle autonomy solutions currently in development,” says Matt. “I like to work closely with end customers to deliver products that are delightful and safe to use.” During previous stints with Apple, Google, and Neato Robotics, Matt focused on engineering challenges involving the integration of hardware and software solutions, such as touch interface technology. Thus, he’s particularly excited about Velodyne’s engineering-driven culture and its focus on improving product performance and accelerating scale. In Velodyne, Matt also sees long-term benefits for sustainability efforts. “We are at a crucial moment where key enabling technologies are converging to allow autonomous vehicles to reach consumers within the next several years. I expect this to have significant impacts on society and the environment by reducing the number of vehicles produced annually, which in turn reduces the number of vehicles on the road and simplifies the process of commuting. I’d like to be a part of that.”