Dr.-Ing. Joël BAFUMBA LISELI, Lead system engineer - electric drive at Valeo
Merci d'avoir accepté l'interview.
Could you please describe your current job ?
I am responsible for the development of the electric axle of electric vehicles, that is to say the specification of the expected functionalities and performances of the electric motor (machine), the inverter, the gearbox and the system tests to validate (or qualify) thereof. This requires a strong background in software, power electronics, mechanics and electromechanics. I transform customer needs into requirements to be transmitted to software, hardware and mechatronics teams as input to their design and specify the system architecture and interfaces (software and hardware for example) to ensure that the system meet its specifications in terms of functionality and performance. My end goal is to help, as much as possible, build greener mobility solutions and reduce the carbon footprint of vehicle fleets for decades to come.
How does your doctorate relate to your current job ?
I have a doctorate in automatic control and signal processing. During my thesis, I worked on the design of a piezoelectric-based positioning system with embedded measurement by self-sensing. Self-sensing means that the piezoelectric material is used both as an actuator and as its own sensor. So nothing to do with electromagnetism, power electronics, or even electric vehicles as required by my current position. However, and this is the beauty of a PhD in my opinion, during a PhD, you not only master and contribute to a subject but, more importantly, you learn how to learn. Therefore, new topics no longer scare you. You learn how to find the information you need, synthesize it and use it to solve any problem very effectively. I was interested in the powertrain of electric vehicles, I learned the subject with less friction than it would have been without a doctorate.
It doesn't matter what your thesis is about, after that you can do whatever you want, right ?
That's not quite it. The doctorate will help you learn better, not to say faster. It will help you find relevant articles, books, and information more efficiently. This helps you better organize your ideas and communicate them clearly to others. But, you still have to go through everything you don't know. Therefore, it will always be easier to learn a subject in which you have some background. In my case, I had an engineering degree in mechatronics, a master's degree in robotics and a doctorate in automatic control and signal processing. Even if electromagnetism and power electronics were new subjects, I had the basics to understand them and the doctorate added the method to learn them better/faster. In other words, you need to have a good idea of what you want to do after your PhD. You can't do a doctorate in philosophy and expect that because you have a doctorate you can become an expert in battery chemistry in no time.
So, did you know the subject you wanted for your doctorate and what you wanted to do once it was finished ?
No, I didn't. The more I learned, the more I realized that I didn't know much so I wanted to know more and that led me to the doctorate. See, I was born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of CONGO. Growing up, like most kids, I loved robots and wanted to build one. Robots weren't made in my country back then. So, after graduating from high school, I went to Brazil for a degree in mechatronics engineering. Mechatronics was the closest thing to robotics that I knew at the time. Then I saw the NAO robot on youtube and I loved it. The robot was made in France, so I traveled to France for a master's degree in robotics and autonomous systems. During my master internship, I learned about the importance of signal acquisition, structure modelling and system reaction for the proper functioning of a robot. A PhD where I will work with piezoelectric materials that could act as both an actuator and a sensor was an offer I couldn't refuse. A humanoid robot like the one I wanted when I was a kid isn't feasible yet. For the moment I have contented myself with a four-wheeled robot (an electric vehicle is a robot). Not to mention that electric vehicles have advantages for the environment. I am still learning and I hope that I will build this humanoid robot or at least contribute in this direction.