Each week, we sit down with a different member of AEye’s leadership team to discuss their role, their view of challenges and opportunities in the industry, and their take on what lies ahead.
This week, we talk with VP of Systems Engineering, Philippe Féru.
1. You were recently promoted to VP of Systems Engineering. Congratulations! Tell us about your role.
I lead the Systems Engineering team, which is basically in charge of integrating components — designed and developed either internally or with partners — with firmware into systems. Those systems are then tested, characterized and further improved to ensure a best-in-class product, before being handed off to Operations.
2. How do you collaborate with other teams and groups within the company?
We are still a relatively small team and many people are very cross-functional. We constantly work together, between the Component Development team, Firmware and Systems team, Software, Operations and, of course, Product Management and Customer-facing teams.
3. What’s the biggest challenge you face in your role?
It is in AEye’s DNA to innovate; I have been very lucky in my career to work on many cutting edge projects and products, but the technical innovation here at AEye, under Luis’ leadership, is second to none. When I joined the company, I was asked to work on finding a balance between this continuous innovation and the need, from a commercial point-of-view, to freeze configurations so we could take products to market with known, stable, and tested configurations. This is not as trivial of a task as it seems, when the rate of innovation is so high and much faster than the product cycle.
4. You have deep experience in laser technologies, having led product development of new laser technologies to serve various markets. Tell us about that.
During my Masters in Mechanical Engineering, I really wanted to find a career in a “young” industry with a lot of potential for growth. One day, during one of my photonics classes, I decided that lasers were going to be my field of work. In the 80s, lasers had only been around for about 20 years, but experts already predicted a massive adoption.
My career has seen three different parts:
I was an engineer for about 13 years working for the French atomic agency, CEA, developing different types of lasers. I worked as part of large teams on projects such as Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation and Inertial Confinement Fusion, as well as an individual contributor on smaller projects. It was very technical and I learned a lot about laser science and technology, but also project management.
I then moved into product management positions at companies like Spectra-Physics and Coherent, where I learned the business and customer sides. We were designing, building and selling sophisticated femtosecond lasers to very knowledgeable customers, such as university professors, lab researchers, and even Nobel Prize laureates. The job was very interesting because it was both technical and customer-facing. I also learned a lot about working in public companies, and was deeply involved in international business, where I learned cultural nuances of doing business in different parts of the world.
The latest stage of my career has been with startups, first Décor World Services, a company I co-founded in France, offering personalized laser engraving of luxury products for both retail and e-commerce, and now with AEye, commercializing LiDAR systems for autonomous vehicle applications.
5. What are some applied learnings you’ve brought to AEye?
My 15 years in large commercial companies taught me how much discipline and processes are crucial in order to ship real products that satisfy customers. Sometimes, at the risk of being seen as too conservative by the team, I challenge the early integration of a new feature at a given stage of a product; the line between improving performance and maintaining product stability is a fine one to walk.
6. Talk to us about what’s happening in the market with regards to pricing on lasers, and specifically, 1550 nanometer (nm) lasers.
In the last couple of years, it’s become clear to the industry that 1550nm is a very good technology for LiDARs, and that there is a real market behind it.
We see more offerings — products getting better, the price going down. It’s really interesting to see how people are realizing the benefits of 1550nm, and while there will be room for different technologies, 1550nm is going to be a leader.
We are working with several laser vendors, which enables us to get the best product at the right price, all while meeting the performance and reliability requirements of the automotive industry.
7. What’s your favorite mode of transportation and why?
I have always loved biking. This probably goes back to when I was a kid in France: during the harvest at my grandparents’ farm, every time we would come back from the fields to unload trailers of hay, we would turn on the TV to check the Tour de France, which is an institution over there.
I am fortunate to live within biking distance of AEye, and the weather in California is so favorable to biking, so I try to bike to work as much as possible. This is a very healthy mode of transportation and also good for the environment.
Of course, sometimes one feels a bit vulnerable on a bike in the middle of traffic, but LiDARs and AI are going to vastly improve bikers’ safety, making bikes so much easier for cars to see.