At NYU, learning extends beyond the classroom with experiences like Vertically Integrated Projects (VIPs) that challenge students to apply their skills to real-world problems. Housed in the Tandon School of Engineering, VIPs are large-scale, multiyear projects open to all NYU undergraduate students. Regardless of their major, students can apply to any NYU VIP that aligns with their interests and helps them develop valuable skills. The Daimler Trucks Driveline Innovation project, one of the many VIPs currently engaged in active research and development, features an exciting industry collaboration that offers students direct professional experience.
Applying Theory in the Real World
Students involved in this NYU VIP partner with Daimler Truck North America, a top manufacturer of commercial vehicles, to reimagine an outdated tool. Until now, the company relied on manual operations, which slowed the design and production of truck drivetrains. The project kicked off in early 2022. Now, after much planning, the team has started developing a more user-friendly and robust tool. To introduce automation and help bring Daimler’s processes into the 21st century, they’re leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence. The new system will eliminate the need to make manual edits to complicated formulas and data fields every time a design or component changes. As a result, Daimler employees will be able to easily and efficiently manage their supply chain.
Fred Strauss, NYU Tandon industry professor of computer science and engineering, is advising the student group, along with James Vue, a design engineer at Daimler. “Having a VIP team working with industry takes the NYU VIP experience to another level,” says Strauss. “It gives the students a great advantage in understanding how to take the theory and technology taught in the classroom and put it into an experiential environment. Then, they can determine how well it is working and what they do or don’t like.”
Taking the Lead on Product Development
The Daimler VIP immerses students in a project with a big-time company impact. Along the way, they experience being part of an actual product team in the technology field. When new students join, Daimler onboards them exactly as they would regular employees. And just like Daimler’s engineers, the students use their project management tools and processes to deliver the software. Additionally, they attend weekly video calls and regularly communicate with those at Daimler who will use the new system.
During meetings, they review progress, share designs and code, get feedback, and discuss upcoming tasks with the Daimler employees. “I was surprised by how much ownership we were given,” says Jerry Aska, a computer engineering student at Tandon who is part of the VIP. “The Daimler team repeatedly reminds us we are the experts and they are the clients. They’ve relied on us to develop the plan, set deadlines, and determine deliverables.”
At first, some of the students felt nervous communicating directly with Daimler. But, with time, they grew more comfortable asking questions, presenting ideas, and managing uncertainty. In fact, regular communication with Daimler proved vital to their success. What’s more, while some students initially struggled to navigate the nuances of teamwork, they ultimately found it rewarding. “Being part of a team has been great. It’s different from working alone,” says Alexander Vorobyev, a Computer Science major at Tandon. “You get these extra layers of complexity. You have to communicate not only with your team but also with people working on other parts of the software. Because eventually, you have to integrate everything together.”
Preparing for the Road Ahead
For Alexander, working on the VIP meant applying existing skills while also learning new ones and producing something that will have a tangible impact. “I got to learn how to make an application with a new library completely from scratch. That skill set will benefit me in the long run. Furthermore, the team at Daimler says they’re happy with what we’ve made so far,” he shares.
Jerry has also benefited from contributing to Daimler, as the experience brought concepts he’d learned in class to life. Today, he feels better prepared for the professional world. “I’ve gained confidence in my email writing, and I’ve shaken a lot of my fears about asking for clarification,” affirms Jerry. “Moreover, this has enhanced my grasp of scrum project management and appreciation of agile methodology. In the future I’ll be a more valuable team member in scrum environments thanks to this NYU VIP.”