SAN FRANCISCOSense Photonics,  a Durham startup focused on building the next generation of 3D sensor solutions, recently named  Google veteran Shauna McIntyre as its new CEO.

Described as a 25-year automotive veteran, she most recently led Google’s automotive services program and Google Maps’ automotive programs. She also served as chief of staff for Google’s consumer electronics division, and on the Board of Directors of Lithia Motors  since April 2019.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam had the chance to pose a few questions to her shortly after the announcement. Here’s what she had to say:

  • ​Congratulations on the new position. What made you decide to jump from Google to Sense Photonics?

When I learned about the role it was immediately interesting to me from a variety of perspectives. First and foremost is the opportunity to solve one of the industry’s largest problems: enabling objects to see and maneuver in the world around them.  Being at Google within the Google Maps division I was immersed in the future of mobility and the importance of object-based maps. In other words, the future map will be developed and read by machines, not people.

Durham’s Sense Photonics names Google veteran as new CEO

The world is going in this direction quickly.  The hardest part of making this happen is enabling the object to read the road and its surroundings. Technologies attempting to do this have been around for over 10 years, but none have gotten it right. Otherwise the problem would be solved by now. So, to get to a First Principles approach toward solving a major, hairy problem was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Many people — especially at Google — questioned why I would leave such a stable, successful company in the midst of the worst pandemic in modern history.  Suffice to say that I’m that confident in this team’s technology and internal capabilities that it was never a question.

  • Where will you be based?

I’ll be based in our San Francisco office with lots of travel to our facilities in North Carolina and the UK, and to customers and partners globally.

  • How have your previous jobs prepared you for this position?

This role is a wonderful combination of many previous roles:  the strategic marketing emphasis and cross-functional engineering leadership while at Honeywell; making tough calls in order to weather economic storms while at Sequoia-backed start-up, Achates Power, during the Great Recession; building trusted relationships and influencing at the tops of major corporations while in management consulting at Egon Zehnder; and most recently, launching embedded software at Google where I also learned the immeasurable value of building a tight, highly collaborative culture.

  • Sense Photonics utilizes LiDAR, an active remote sensing system, and 3D sensor technology. What excites you about this technology, and where do you see it headed?

I’m beyond excited about our technology because it gets back to that First Principles approach of solving a major technical problem.  Vehicles must be able to see, which means they need to be able to process lots of data within a very tight timeframe. Our architecture provides the most high-quality data above any other architecture, and we do so without any moving parts, and in a small, cost-effective package.  This is a breakthrough for both industrial and automotive applications.

  • How has the company fared during the coronavirus crisis?​

We are fortunate in that our employees have stayed healthy during this crisis.  We have had one fall ill of the flu in the UK (undetermined if it was COVID-19), but thankfully he’s getting better. We have had to make certain concessions but overall we’re able to continue working – albeit remotely and most of us from our homes.

  • What are your goals for the firm?

We have tremendous capabilities and a fundamentally better solution.  My goal for our company is to show this to the world and be recognized for the positive, transformative effect we’ll have on major industries. It’s monumental.

  • What do you see as some of the main challenges facing autonomous tech?

I think the largest challenges facing autonomous technology are the added cost, performance and durability challenges of any new system.  Having started my career at Ford, I know how sensitive any additional cost is to the vehicle’s Bill of Materials. Even 10c is painful to the OEM for a high-volume product.  We have an inherent cost advantage due to the streamlined nature of our product.

That said, you pile on the per-vehicle cost plus that of the required on-vehicle computing system, connectivity requirements and other creature comforts, these costs add up.  On performance, other solutions do not provide data that is sufficient to deliver the required levels of perception necessary for autonomy applications. Plus, the reliability of the system must be proven out over hundreds of thousands of miles and at least one million miles for heavy truck applications.

From my time leading product and engineering at Honeywell Turbo, I learned first-hand that product issues often emerge in the field even if there was an abundance of testing.  Surprises happen. Again we have inherent advantages given we have no moving parts, but for the industry as a whole this is yet another sophisticated technology to validate, which is nontrivial.

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