Ujjwala Karle

What comes to your mind when you think of personalities such as Henry Ford, Taylor Swift, and Steve Jobs? As per me, these are amongst few individuals who revolutionized their industries and left a mark on billions. I am pleased to share the inspiring story of one such pioneer whose work continues to impact the past, present, and future of the Indian Automotive Industry. Mrs. Ujjwala Karle, General Manager and leading Technology group of ARAI, started in the same organization as a research assistant. From the last 27 years, she has been part of different advanced technologies team contributing to innovations in electrification, hybridization, safety-critical integrated systems, OBD, autonomous, IoT, and more. If you are eager to contribute your bit to Indian automotive, hers is one of the few stories you should study and emulate. A visionary, doer, and a sustainable leader, she selflessly shares her experiences and lessons with us in this interview. During our entire conversation, I loved the deterministic and enthusiastic ring to her tone. Especially when she said to me,

“My team and I endeavour to engineer solutions and contribute to future Indian mobility. Because I believe, technology is global but, solutions have to be local.”

Legendary development of the past

In the year 1994, the youngest member of the advanced electronics group contributed to the development of India’s first electronic fuel injection. At that time, young Ujjwala had found it hard to sink in all the vehicle-related information, EMI/EMC, and programming challenges. However, when you are part of larger than life project, you put your head down and work towards the success of it. Her first and incredible feat was when the group successfully retrofitted this system in Premier Padmini Car. For road testing, they travelled in the upgraded car from Pune to Mumbai and were very well received by Fiat’s management team. For her, it was a proud moment to be part of ARAI’s incredible efforts to absorb and disseminate, advanced, and contemporary technologies.

Ever since the first time, she has continued to bring up new innovative products and patented designs for the Indian automotive market. A couple of her outstanding application projects include electronics within the series hybrid vehicles, dual fuel control, low-cost test system for loaded mode (included as part of Auto Fuel Policy), amongst others. The one that stood out for me was her SPOC role for ISRO projects, where the collaboration brought the horizontal deployment of knowledge from space in automotive use cases. Her scope of work included leading a feasibility check for lithium-ion battery technology in automotive through packaging, thermal management issues, BMS control, validation, and testing. After a year of work, her team at ARAI and ISRO successfully launched a 2W with this battery cell technology at SIAT 2017. The best was yet to come when ISRO transferred this technology to 10 OEMs for its manufacturing in India. I wondered what motivated her to keep pushing boundaries, and with no surprise, one of the answers came out to be Dr. Abdul Kalam. One of the best quotes by the nation’s beloved scientist aptly describes Ujjwala’s dreams and work.

“Great dreams of great dreamers are always transcended.”

Aspirational development of the present

At the beginning of a new decade, ARAI management works towards forming a technology roadmap for the upcoming decade. The technology group currently led by Ujjwala was the brainchild of the technology roadmap for 2010-2020. I bet you would be as thrilled as I was to hear about the different initiatives of this group from her. I am happy to share a couple of them below.

  1. SwayamGo- intelligent systems to provide safety solutions through ADAS, autonomous,
  2. (Effi)^x- for electric, hybrid, configuration controls of sub-systems,
  3. Electron- Multidomain approach for all energy storage systems (materials, chemical mechanical, E/E, and application approach
  4. Adaptronics- IOT, v2X based solutions ensuring security for many applications such as prognostics
  5. MProDe- Light weighting/right weighting solutions
  6. I3- Ideate, Incubate & Innovate- promoting and enrooting newer concepts to derive solutions

Working towards the design and development of multiple technologies in parallel was no easy task. Therefore, I was eager to know how an automotive enthusiast or professional keep working in an ever-changing environment. Her advice was priceless.

“Today’s automotive is not uni-directional. We need young ignited minds from cross-functional team to engineer solutions together. Each individual should have an ability to un-learn to upskill themselves. They should focus on gaining good system engineering and communication skills.”

Bright development of the future:

Most of the automotive enthusiasts are familiar with the acronym CASE focused on automotive megatrends. You would be surprised to hear about the Indian version of CASE, as formulated by ARAI.

C= Connected to combat heavy traffic and congestion,

A= Affordable to address India’s population,

S= Safety because it is not an optional feature,

E=Eco-friendly because it’s need of the hour.

Ujjwala strongly believes that to achieve an arduous task of India’s CASE, we all need to collaborate and partner. She has technically led the centre of excellence projects with industry partners and with the government of India.

” Because tomorrow’s mobility is not a game for one.”

During the entire conversation, she kept repeating how grateful she was to ARAI and each of her roles. When she described her journey to be fulfilling, I could not agree more. However, she pointed out that she has seen more failures than success. All these failures are what kept her firmly stable and grounded. It has taught and enriched her to accept success and failure gracefully. Until the end, we were talking about technological advancements in the Indian context. Therefore, I was startled to hear her advice to be Technology agnostic. How can one go on to doubt the same technology they are developing? The mystery behind this dichotomy is that the shelf life of technology is less than the career span of an individual. Therefore, to be successful, we have to be open to change and learn to adapt it. Ujjwala has been a trailblazer for the Indian automotive world with all her contributions. She continues to pay forward to the community by agreeing to share her lessons and insights with us. I could not have described her sustainable leadership any better than Dr. Abdul Kalam’s quote.

” Yesterday leaders commanded the control. Today, leaders empower and coach, that means potential leader will be empowered to the exposure of needs of sustainable development, what we need today.”

____Brief Write-up Author – Riya, Functional Safety Manager at Mahindra Electric Mobility Limited, is an environmentalist at heart, reader by choice, and writer by passion.