Meet Umar, the Malaysian engineer in Finland working at bringing a driverless bus to life

Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid has been in the AV field for almost six years now. — Picture by Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid
Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid has been in the AV field for almost six years now. — Picture by Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 7 — Self-driving technology used to be something you saw in science fiction movies.

But in recent years, the concept of vehicles moving without a driver is slowly becoming a reality.

And among those working hard to make it happen is Malaysian Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid as being among the pioneers in the Malaysian autonomous vehicle (AV) field.

Umar is now team lead engineer for planning and control algorithm development with Finnish self-driving technology company, Sensible 4.

They are in partnership with Muji Japan in producing an electric, shared driverless shuttle bus called Gacha.

“In layman terms, our team is responsible to develop algorithms which help the AV to move and re-plan its destination/trajectory in unwanted incidents,” said Umar.

Having worked with the Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) and AV since 2014, Umar, a PhD holder from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) specialises in guidance, navigation and control system for AV.

Umar and some of his colleagues from Sensible 4. — Picture by Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid
Umar and some of his colleagues from Sensible 4. — Picture by Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid

During his PhD years, Umar was a member of UTM's Intelligent Drive Team where they showcased the first driverless vehicle prototype at the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC) in Cyberjaya on early 2018.

Since then, Umar has been involved in more than 10 AV projects in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Finland.

He has also written more than 25 published scientific reports in the field of AV.

Among his published work is the “Aurora Arctic Challenge Project” which focuses on AV implementation in harsh and extreme weather conditions.

Umar in Gothenburg, Sweden, for a vehicle control scientific conference where they presented one of the results of the Aurora Arctic Challenge Project. — Picture by Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid
Umar in Gothenburg, Sweden, for a vehicle control scientific conference where they presented one of the results of the Aurora Arctic Challenge Project. — Picture by Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid

Umar added that he was humbled and honoured to be working alongside experts, some of whom have been working on robotics for the past 25 years ago.

“From my six years’ experience in the AV field, I believe, I am currently working with one of the best ‘positioning and mapping for AV’ team out there,” he said.

Besides that, Umar said working in AV could be a “very bumpy road”.

“Every day is a challenge when you are at the forefront of new technology. But to work in something that will change the world and has a high potential to benefit mankind, I think that is worth the challenge,” he said.

Future of driverless technology in Malaysia

GACHA is the partnership result between Muji and Sensible 4. ― Picture courtesy of Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid
GACHA is the partnership result between Muji and Sensible 4. ― Picture courtesy of Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid

A 2019 survey on the landscape of the automotive field in Asean, particularly in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia showed that the region has a lot of potential in the field of AV due to massive manufacturing and assembly plants for automotive companies here.

The survey by the director general of Malaysian institute of road safety research Siti Zaharah Ishak with Umar and Indonesian scientist, Dr Fitrian Imaduddin.

“We also have a large pool of talent in automotive. Singapore, for example, has a lot of potential in the context of AV, while Malaysia and Indonesia ― has a huge potential of becoming the centre of EV-related plants in the future,” Umar said.

Another survey from 2017 which was co-written by Umar found that 65 per cent of children today will work in a still non-existing job field in the future, which involves work related to the AV field.

“It is highly evident that youngsters should be equipped with skills related to AV, which in itself can also stimulate the economic aspects of the country,” he said.

The self driving bus is going to have it's own pilot test in the South East Asia region by this year. ― Picture courtesy of Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid
The self driving bus is going to have it's own pilot test in the South East Asia region by this year. ― Picture courtesy of Umar Zakir Abdul Hamid

On Gacha, he said the driverless shuttle bus was capable of driving in all weather conditions.

Sensible 4 launched a pilot test in multiple cities in Finland since March 2019 and wants to introduce Gacha in South East Asia this year.

They’re aiming to make the driverless bus commercially available by 2021.

Since its debut, Gacha has won several important design awards globally which include Good Design Award 2019, Beazley Designs of the Year, and also the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport 2019.

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