At TUMCREATE, as we prepare to conclude our research in Phase Two – Towards the Ultimate Public Transport System, we would like to highlight our researchers who continue to make significant contributions to the programme. Through our interview series, People behind the Science, we talk to our researchers to discover more about them and their stories.
It’s a pleasure to have Dr Aybike Ongel, Principal Investigator of team Individual Mobility Vehicles and Services (IMVS) with us.
Unlike most people, Aybike always knew she wanted to be a professor since high school. Even though there were times in college when she had spent more of her time having fun with her friends, she was focused on her academics and made sure she never strayed away from achieving high grades to pursue her graduate studies. A go-getter, she shared that she usually takes her lunch breaks in the office and works from home a lot. Who knows, maybe this is one of the secrets behind her achievements?
Q: Tell us about yourself and what you do…
I am the principal investigator (PI) of team IMVS, the automotive engineering team at TUMCREATE. Within the team, we develop autonomous electric vehicle concepts and prototypes to solve transportation related problems. I believe that with our tools and methodologies, we can contribute positively to the advancement of autonomous mobility. Also, as an academician, my time is split between writing scientific papers and technical reports, presenting at conferences, and supervising the PhD students in my team.
Q: What made you come to Singapore, and how has it been like living here?
I love traveling and living in different places so I have kind of adapted to a nomadic life. Before Singapore, I had lived in the USA and Europe, and at some point, I felt that my experience in Asia was missing. I looked through some options and Singapore, being a very innovative country with a great focus on education and high-quality research, really attracted me.
Now that I’m here, I feel that I have made the right decision. Singapore is not only great for work purposes but also for traveling since it is a great location to explore Asia. Also, the warm and humid weather here really suits my lifestyle as I love doing outdoor activities. It is great to be able to work-out and swim outdoors all year round. I think I should also mention the food, I really love the Peranakan food here!
Q: Who or what inspired you to be in your field of research?
Initially, it was my parents who paved the idea of me being a professor. Having academic backgrounds themselves, they really wanted me to pursue their paths. Of course, I had also found being in this profession exciting. I can do research on the topics that I am interested in and have the flexibility in managing my own work, although this comes with a lot of self-motivation! It is also one of the few jobs which you can directly communicate the knowledge and influence the younger generations.
What further made me became confident about my career choice was when I met my masters and PhD advisor. As a great researcher, teacher, collaborator, and leader, he has been my role model ever since. I guess I was very lucky to have met a professor like him, who was able to combine his technical expertise with humility and empathy, to inspire me and many others at the early stages of our careers.
Q: What are some of the challenges for you in your field of research?
The main challenge in my research field is collecting experimental and field data. This is especially true for collecting field data as it is very costly and time consuming. Therefore, it requires a huge amount of support such as funding. Additionally, with field data, you are susceptible to environmental constrains, such as rain, snow, and may even have to wait for the conditions to be suitable for data collection. It is also a challenge to have full experimental control.
Q: Tell us about your work and journey in TUMCREATE…
I joined TUMCREATE in 2017. When I first joined, my team was mostly working on physical prototypes of autonomous vehicles. After that, we decided to focus on developing virtual prototypes or physical prototypes in a smaller scale, such as SCUBE, autonomous personal mobility device, or human machine interaction systems. Additionally, we try to improve public transportation system through our innovative vehicle concepts which can improve service quality while minimizing cost and adverse environmental impacts.
Together with my team, we developed a parametric vehicle concept development tool for autonomous electric buses called the AEV tool. It can be used in the early phase of a vehicle development process to enable a fast and efficient creation of a flexible bus concept. Using the AEV tool, we also developed the Fleet Optimization Tool, which allows the user to optimize bus concepts while looking at factors like cost, energy efficiency and customer satisfaction. These tools are developed with the aim to help vehicle OEMs and transport agencies.
Q: What are some of your plans in the future?
I will be leaving Singapore and moving to Switzerland very soon. My PhD was a collaboration between EMPA Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology and UC Davis, so I had spent quite some time in Zurich during my PhD studies before. Also, after my PhD, I was a visiting researcher at EMPA for a couple of years. So, I know Switzerland quite well and it is one of my favourite places. I always thought it would be my last stop in my nomadic journey but lets see!
(We wondered if Aybike has always knew what she wanted to be, even when she was a child...)
Q: What did you aspire to be when you were a child? Is any part of that still true?
When I was very young, before I wanted to be a professor, I wanted to be a traveller and travel around the world. When I was around 4 or 5 years old, I remember packing up my stuff and asking guests, who came to my house, to take me along with them when they were going back to their hometowns. Of course, I don’t ask people to do that anymore! Thinking back, I guess the ‘traveller’ part of me is still true. My desire to travel has not changed at all and in fact, this has become my lifestyle since my career also enables me to travel and move from one place to another.
A big thank you to Aybike for doing this interview with us. It’s inspiring to hear how she worked towards her goals and is now living the dream!