Nick Sitarski, 37
Group manager of integrated vehicle systems, Toyota Motor North America
Big break: Promotion in April 2018 to lead the team developing driver-assist and autonomous systems at Toyota
Nick Sitarski has spent a considerable part of his engineering career making difficult tasks easier. His 15 patents are quiet testament to that.
But now Sitarski is on a special mission that hits close to home: He wants to make sure his legally blind 9-year-old nephew, Luke, never has to worry that his disability might keep him from having an otherwise normal life.
“When he gets older, I don’t want him to have to worry about if he can get a job, or get where he needs to go,” said Sitarski, 37, group manager for integrated vehicle systems at Toyota Motor North America. One of Sitarski’s main responsibilities is helping Toyota develop future driver-assistance features as well as autonomous-driving systems. It’s a big task, but if he pulls it off, Luke stands to be a direct beneficiary.
“I have the ability to directly influence the quality of his life going forward,” Sitarski said.
Sitarski, a native of suburban Detroit who started at Toyota in 2005, designed — and received the patent for — Toyota’s original automatic high-beam system, as well as for the automaker’s rear-camera display and capacitive switches.
“I like developing new things and doing things that people say we can’t do,” he said.
But Sitarski’s job now is more than hands-on engineering; he manages a team of 40 to 50 engineers. That means concentrating just as hard on motivating and developing his team as he does on developing technologies, such as those for the Toyota Safety Sense package of preventive safety features, as well as for the eventual goal of Level 5 autonomous driving.
“An engineer’s job isn’t to justify why what a customer wants can’t be done; it’s finding a way to deliver what the customer wants,” Sitarski said. “If you get these good engineers and unleash them and let them do what they can do, you really can do great things.”
Asked whether full autonomous driving will ever be possible, Sitarski said he can’t be sure. At least for now.
“There’s an awful lot of really smart people working on it,” Sitarski said. “That’s my goal. And usually I meet my goals, so we’ll see.”
— Larry P. Vellequette