Making a real difference with Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the goal of Chaitali Purkayastha. Together with her colleagues at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development in Bangalore, India, she is developing business models for the mobility of tomorrow. With Daimler AI Vision, the expert for AI and machine learning has also built an internal AI portal with the support of her colleague and mentor Patrick Klingler, to cater to the AI Community. In her interview, Chaitali Purkayastha tells us how this internal digital platform can improve collaboration in the development of AI applications at Daimler, what she hopes for the year of 2090, and why her parents have remained her strongest role models to this day.
Chaitali, what role will Artificial Intelligence play in the vehicles of the future?
AI technologies are currently giving an enormous boost to development in many areas - and it doesn't matter which future mobility topics we're talking about. In electromobility, machine learning and AI ensure, among other things, optimal battery utilization and thus a wider range. When it comes to autonomous driving, we need Artificial Intelligence, for Path planning, to recognize the vehicles' surroundings and for the interpretation of sensor data. In addition, there is an emergence of completely new services that are only possible thanks to these technologies. That is where we come in.
With your team, you develop new business models on the topic of mobility. Can you give us an example?
One project we have implemented is Mercedes-Benz Truck Sharing. The service allows companies to make Mercedes-Benz trucks and commercial vehicles available to other users or to borrow them from other businesses as needed. Companies can easily release their unused trucks online regardless of location. Thanks to tracking, they can always keep an eye on the vehicles. The drivers who use the borrowed truck are given access to details via a smartphone app and thus making the process simpler. This offers companies entirely new possibilities when it comes to fleet planning.
How do you and your team proceed when working on such apps?
Colleagues from other areas often approach us with their business proposals. This was also the case with truck sharing. We then consider together which functions are important in order to offer our customers optimum added value. In truck sharing, we built the entire software stack with all latest technologies as an agile project. In the process, we initially built the MVP and then the Production ready solution for the users.
So your team accompanies the services from the initial idea to the go-live?
Yes, that is very often the case. In addition to the projects we implement for the divisions, we also develop applications and concepts on our own. We are well connected within the Daimler Group worldwide, and when we see some business problem, we exchange ideas with colleagues and check how we can make the best use of new technologies and improve the process.
One of your ideas was Daimler AI Vision. What exactly is it about?
Daimler AI Vision is an AI Community within the Social Intranet that enables employees at Daimler to collaborate more easily across divisions on the topics of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. At Daimler, we have numerous development teams around the world who are researching innovative new technologies. Many of them can be adapted for very different applications with little effort if we have a collaborative platform. I have expertise in multiple technologies and extensive knowledge in Product development & management, and so I envisioned such a platform to empower the AI ecosystem within our company.
A very clear approach. What was the next step?
I came up with the idea and presented it along with my team at a Daimler innovation development event. We immediately received positive feedback and support, as well as the necessary funds. I contacted Patrick Klingler, Lead Data & AI Architecture. He guided and supported me and the Team throughout and we made good progress. I am glad to have found such a good mentor.
Many colleagues around the world appreciate this concept of Daimler AI Vision along with the AI community to move us forward on artificial intelligence.
How did you actually come to Daimler?
I was working for a telecommunications company at the time and came across my current position at Daimler by chance. During my job interview, my future supervisor explained to me what innovative topics and technologies my colleagues were working on - from chatbots to Mixed reality and Artificial Intelligence. This fascinated me and I knew immediately: This is a place, where I can learn a lot and develop myself. Shortly after that, I started working in the team.
What is your team like?
We are ten colleagues. Each of us has his or her own area of expertise: machine learning, user interface and user experience design, data science, and full stack development. Everyone is totally enthusiastic about new technologies and we inspire each other in our projects. We have a great team spirit - and also spend time together after work.
And where does your passion for technology come from?
It comes from my parents (laughs). My father worked as a statistician in national planning organization of Indian government and my mother is a telecommunications engineer. With their work, both have made an important contribution to enabling many people to have a more comfortable life here in India. I found that remarkable even as a child - and I wanted to achieve that, too. My first contact with software development was during my studies as for me, it is one of the key factors in making the world a better place to live. With AI technology today, we can really do great things to advance our society and business. This motivates and drives me.
One last personal question: If time travel were possible, where would you travel to?
I think I would travel to the year of 2090. Looking into the future excites me: Whether we live on other planets, for example on Mars, or have even found other interstellar solar systems. And, of course, I want to see what extent of damage has been done to the world by issues like Global warming, so that we can do more remedial measures now.
In person: Creativity and the passion to build useful Products for people is what drives Chaitali. She did her Bachelors in Civil Engg in India in her hometown of Kolkata. Later, she discovered her fascination for software programming and completed her master's degree in Computer Science. She also studied Product Strategy at IIMK (Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode) and got a Micromasters in AI at the Columbia University. Today, when she is not working with her team at Mercedes-Benz on innovative business models for the mobility of tomorrow, she shows her creativity as a dancer, choreographer and singer. The cultivation of traditional Indian dances such as Kathak is just as important to the philanthropist as her commitment to social projects and support for disadvantaged children and families.