Remember when you were 23? You were probably fresh out of college, entering the workforce and eager to make a name for yourself.
You could say the same for Victoria Schein, except for one key difference: She already has nine patents under her belt.
The recent Smith College college graduate is a research and design engineer with Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, MI, and in her short time with the iconic American automaker, she's already filed more than 20 patent applications for devices she innovated.
Her first string of patents came out of her time interning with Ford in Palo Alto, CA. She says she didn't anticipate being able to file patents as an intern, but "my attitude going into the internship was to show them everything that I could do."
When she found out there were patent lawyers in the office, she jumped at the opportunity to pick their brains.
"I met with them twice a week, and they taught me all they knew and helped me develop my ideas," Schein told Circa. "The first nine patents were very driver assist-centered helping reduce driver distractions."
The majority of the rest of her patent applications are focused on mobility and getting around without a car.
Some of those include:
- A glass and mirror opaqueness detection sensor system;
- A mobile app method for providing safety precautions for towing and trailing;
- A custom event-tagging platform using Bluetooth;
- A dual use infrared (IR) sensor that detects fogging on windows in autonomous vehicles;
- A greenhouse tinting system that changes based on the occupant's position in autonomous vehicles;
- And a device that assists drivers when they're making complex merging maneuvers and turns.
Many of her designs were inspired by a particularly precarious driving experience she had while riding in a car with her brother. They came up against a difficult U-turn and observing how her brother reacted to the scenario sparked the idea for her event tagging patent.
The button, using Bluetooth, connects to your smartphone and activates when you push the button. Each button press can signify different actions or events like a known tricky turn. Once it records a button press, it sends the information to a mobile app that then helps the driver in the maneuver they're about to make.
"It compares the GPS area with the turning radius of your vehicle, which is already in the mobile app, so when you got to the U-turn, it's already calculated whether or not you can actually make the turn," Schein explained. "From there you can say, 'Okay, I'm going to reroute somewhere else,' or 'I can make this turn.'"
One other (pretty ironic) quality that gives Schein an edge as a designer and engineer is that she doesn't drive. That's right, she doesn't have a license and she bikes to work.
She has a permit now, which she's excited about, but ask her and she'll tell you her outsider view helps her design with a more critical eye.
"Everyone's a different driver. Everyone drives based off experience and learning, and being in the passenger seat is where all of these have started," she said.
As a non-driver for most of her life, when she designs, she's not just thinking about cars. She's also thinking about how mobility innovations impact pedestrians, bikers and all other commuters.
Her aim is to zoom in on "the user and their journey and how it (her devices) fits into their mobility pattern."
Schein grew up in southern California and says she's been mesmerized by cars for as long as she can remember. By the time she was in elementary school, she was already a proud subscriber to Automobile magazine.
"I just read car magazines and I would make collages and draw them," she said.
Now as a Ford research engineer, Schein hopes to inspire more women to work in STEM fields and leave her mark on the traditionally male-dominated automotive industry.
"Being able to motivate others and show them my work and show them that it's possible to be able to do these things...to bring their ideas to life," she said is what drives her everyday.
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