Ruth Howley

Ruth Howley

Control System Engineer at CoolPlanet

Tell us a bit about yourself ?

I studied Physics with Computing at Waterford Institute of Technology (now SETU) with electives focusing on Alternative Energies and Embedded Systems. Through my Final Year Project, I got a job offer for an engineering role in the UK automotive industry and moved to Cambridge the week after I finished my exams. After nearly 10 years working abroad, I decided it was time to come home to Ireland and am now based in Waterford working for Studio AVA, CoolPlanet’s automotive team.

Where did you work prior to joining CoolPlanet?

I spent 9 years in the UK as a consultant Systems Engineer for Pi Innovo (now Applus IDIADA UK), and later at Tata Technologies. I worked on a wide range of projects such as a variable diesel injection system, a prototype alternative-energy engine which ran on liquid nitrogen, and “hacking” a car to drive it with a PlayStation controller. My primary focus and interest however was building control systems and rapid-prototype demonstrators for Hybrid and Electric vehicles.

These projects gave me the opportunity to work with a variety of customers on interesting vehicles, from high-end luxury cars to heavy-duty machines at Caterpillar, and to work at customer sites across the world from Spain to China.

What does your job entail?

As  Control Systems engineer within the Studio AVA automotive team, I am responsible for designing and implementing embedded software solutions for our vehicles. Getting a vehicle to move isn't as straightforward as turning the key and pressing your foot on the accelerator pedal - there is a surprising amount of control logic and signal processing needed before anything can actually happen. I facilitate this by creating control applications in MATLAB Simulink for our Vehicle Control Unit (VCU) - the brain of the vehicle.

Our VCU interfaces with all the low voltage (LV) components within our vehicles (e.g. battery BMS, motor controller / inverter, instrument cluster, telematics, accelerator pedal, brake pedal etc.) and the control application software provides the ability to safely manage these devices while operating the AVA powertrain. Designing and building our own vehicle controls application from the ground up allows us to have full control of the vehicle behaviour instead of relying on off-the-shelf systems which give very little implementation flexibility.

Following software development, I also perform Model-in-the-Loop (MIL) testing, bench testing and on-vehicle testing to verify and validate the controls software to ensure the controls software executes without any issues and operates as intended.

Another aspect of my job is to define and help build the LV wiring harness for our vehicles. This is the physical interface connecting all the LV devices to our VCU and requires consideration of current consumption, possible sources of electrical interference, accessing legacy vehicle wiring and requirements for the vehicle communication network topologies.

What do you enjoy most about working for CoolPlanet?

There are so many things I enjoy about working for CoolPlanet - the diversity of work, the social events and supportive management to name but a few. My favourite thing though would probably be the company ethos; everyone has such enthusiasm for their work and we’re all on the same page trying to make a difference to the world. There is such wonderful positivity within the group and it feels very special.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An architect like my dad - I loved drawing and designing my dream home. It was only when I was choosing what to study in college did I realise that being an architect wouldn’t involve me doodling my fantasy buildings and, ultimately, the day-to-day work didn’t interest me at all so I finally abandoned that idea!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love open water swimming and am at the sea all year round. I’m trying to visit as many local beaches as possible - I’ve nearly finished visiting all the beaches in Waterford! I also enjoy bouldering and indoor climbing. I haven’t had the chance to climb much since I moved back to Ireland but I spent a lot of time in the climbing gyms in the UK, I even made a reasonable effort at climbing a reproduction of Alex Honnold’s famous Boulder problem (as seen in his FreeSolo movie).

What keeps you motivated ?

Making things work. I love spending time finding a solution to a problem or working on a piece of software and then seeing it do something in real life. Being part of a small team designing and building vehicles ourselves is so satisfying, the fact that it’s beneficial to the environment is an added bonus!

What are three interesting things about you?

  • I can play the trombone
  • I love travelling and I’m currently packing for a solo trip to Japan
  • I am a serial hobbyist - every few months I find a new craft or hobby to obsess over before forgetting about it completely and moving on to the next fascination. This season is terrariums.

What is your life mantra?