What’s coming down the road for the automotive industry?

30 Sep 2020

Punitha Sinnapan. Image: Cubic Telecom

Cubic Telecom’s Punitha Sinnapan discusses future trends in the automotive sector and her own career journey in the industry.

In July of this year, Irish tech company Cubic Telecom appointed Punitha Sinnapan as its new vice-president of automotive design and innovation.

She joined Cubic from multinational chipmaker Intel, where she worked as automotive solution architect for the past 12 years. Sinnapan has more than 17 years of industrial experience in software and system architecture and design, and vast experience in areas such as in-vehicle computing, autonomous driving, high-performance computing architecture and project and customer management.

‘The moment I drove a car equipped with the system I helped to design was the moment I became ambitious about becoming an expert in the field’

Cubic Telecom provides IoT software to automotive, agriculture, energy and transport manufacturers, and Sinnapan said her new role there involves optimising the company’s current product strategy with new capabilities for the automotive industry.

“When you think about what’s coming down the track for the industry in terms of autonomous driving, V2X [vehicle-to-everything technology] and electrification, it will be important for our team to highlight Cubic’s competitive advantage in powering these areas,” she said. “I will use my leadership and draw on previous experience to drive our innovation concepts that address some key challenges in the connected car space.”

Sinnapan said the automotive industry is going through “a major period of digital transformation”, with new consolidated vehicle computer architecture, more software being integrated into vehicles and connected car services being deployed. Cubic Telecom has already been involved in connected-car partnerships with companies such as Microsoft and Volkswagen.

“Traditional automakers are focusing on electrification, autonomous driving and 5G,” Sinnapan said. “A lot of investments into these technologies are on the horizon too. Waymo and Tesla are leaders on the journey to electrification, while disruptors like car-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are focusing on bringing more services and adding more building blocks.

“The next transformation beyond autonomous driving and 5G would be to infrastructure, for example, V2X for smart cities in the areas of parking, roads, traffic lights etc, with integration into vehicles. That is going to be the biggest change for the industry over the next few years.”

The road to automotive design

Sinnapan said she has been a logical thinker and problem-solver since childhood, which is when her interest in tech started to develop. “I was introduced to a computer and the first programming language – Pascal – when I was 17.

“My first mathematical operation software programming code had me hooked! I quickly realised how to get computers to do complex tasks for me,” she said. “Ever since then, I have been on a continuous journey of technological discovery and learning. It never stops.”

Over the years, her passions became more focused and she developed an interest in virtual reality during her undergraduate years before majoring in advanced graphics architecture.

“I was then hired by Intel’s embedded product group where I took on a role as graphic application engineer. This was an exciting time to join Intel, as they were starting to develop automotive in-vehicle computing designs and I was one of the pioneers in that up-and-coming space to help them on the journey,” she said.

Breaking the mould

In those early years, Sinnapan said meeting customer expectations and product delivery was stressful but fulfilling. “The moment I drove a car equipped with the system I helped to design and deliver was the moment I became ambitious about becoming an expert in the field of automotive design.”

While she loves the work that she does, she also mentioned the challenging environments she has worked in, including system debug sessions, or ‘dungeons’, where tables were banged out of frustration.

‘Fusing my ability to analyse problems and articulate solutions in a unique way made my colleagues interested in what I had to offer’

“Persevering through those environments and delivering a product that exceeded customer expectation eventually made those same frustrated individuals smile and express their gratitude. Overcoming those challenges gave me purpose and a sense of accomplishment, which drove me to work harder.”

However, Sinnapan said the biggest challenge overall in her career was being heard and taken seriously as a leader in a typically male-dominated tech sector. “I was raised in a culture where we allow men to shine while women take a backseat and a soft-spoken, tip-toe approach,” she said.

“Breaking the mould of that habit has helped me transform myself to become a better leader and I have amazing family to support my career. Fusing my ability to analyse problems and articulate solutions in a unique way made my colleagues interested in what I had to offer.”

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic