One to Watch: Engineer follows lifelong passion to make autonomous vehicles mainstream

Thorsten Lorenzen with his vehicle
In our ongoing series, ‘One to Watch,’ we profile TIers who are making a difference through innovation or citizenship.

Thorsten Lorenzen has long been captivated by the idea that self-driving cars would one day become a common sight on the road. A lifelong passion for electronics opened the door to a career focused on making that dream a reality.

“Ever since I was a young boy, I have been fascinated by electronic developments and system concepts,” he said. “I remember how excited I was when I built my first LED driver as a teenager.”

Thorsten is used to being ahead of his time. Autonomous driving is a hot topic today, but in 2005, when his boss first suggested he dedicate himself to the field, autonomous vehicles seemed like science fiction.

“The very idea that self-driving cars might one day enter the mainstream was the stuff of Hollywood movies,” Thorsten said. “Consequently, few engineers were really engaged with the topic. For me, on the other hand, it was the perfect opportunity to turn a personal passion into my profession.”

Today, the engineer is focused on advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in Europe. He works with vision-based digital-signal-processing systems and consults with automotive suppliers to design electronic systems for autonomous driving.

His passion for helping bring autonomous vehicles to the mainstream goes far beyond his day-to-day responsibilities. His approach is vocational. Above all, he wants to inspire others to share his fascination, his curiosity and his drive to push the boundaries of what can be achieved in this rapidly evolving field.

Thorsten Lorenzen speaking at Kempten University When he was given an opportunity to channel some of that energy into inspiring the next generation of systems engineers at Kempten University, Thorsten grabbed it with both hands.

“I bumped into the dean of Kempten University at a trade show. He was looking for a semiconductor supplier for student projects,” he said. “We started talking and before very long I had made up my mind that I wanted to do more than supply parts. I wanted to play a far more active role in helping students understand the possibilities opening up in the field of autonomy.”   

Located in Bavaria in southern Germany, the university sits at the epicenter of the region’s thriving automotive industry. In 2014, it became the first academic institution in Germany to introduce an ADAS master’s degree program.

“I became involved with the university about a year ago, devising a course for students covering hardware concepts as well as software and deep-learning principles related to autonomous vehicles,” Thorsten said. “In addition to lecturing whenever time permits, I also run workshops, which are much more hands-on. I’m particularly keen to encourage more female engineers to take an interest in the subject. The best ideas come from having a diverse group of people working on projects.”

Thorsten finds it particularly rewarding to see students actively using technologies from our company to bring ideas to life, including during a recent student competition to design and build a self-driving race car.

News of Thorsten’s work with ADAS students has also led to collaborations with other departments where autonomous systems are increasingly influential.

“We’ve set up laboratory courses for students about how to approach electronic system design across a variety of different sectors. One project I’m particularly excited about right now involves the application of actively sensing and monitoring cows with respect to farming 4.0 situations. We are only just scratching the surface of what is possible.”