TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian, long-time automotive technology researcher and development engineer at Daimler AG, joined the faculty in The University of Alabama College of Engineering, bringing decades of industry experience into the classroom and labs.
Balasubramanian retired earlier this year as vice president of group research and advanced engineering responsible for product innovations and process technologies after nearly 40 years as a research and development engineer for the Mercedes-Benz brand in Stuttgart, Germany.
At UA, he will be a professor with an appointment in both the mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering departments. He was also named executive director of the Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies, or CAVT, a cross-discipline research center focused on automotive innovation.
“We are very excited to have Dr. Balasubramanian join the College of Engineering at The University of Alabama,” said Dr. Charles L. Karr, dean of UA engineering. “His extensive experience in automotive research and development will be of great benefit to both the University and the state of Alabama.
“He has been at the forefront of most of the major advances that have occurred in automotive technology over the past 20 years, and we are looking forward to having him work with our faculty and students on cutting edge automotive research and on ensuring our graduates are prepared to address the automotive challenges the world will face over the next 20 years.”
While at the University, Balasubramanian said he wants to strengthen relationships with industry so research and development benefit both, and he hopes to use his experience at Daimler to prepare students to work for the auto industry in Alabama and the Southeast.
“Nearly every foreign automotive company has a presence in the Southeast,” he said. “We not only want to make students better prepared to work for them, but that they are so well trained those companies won’t look at other universities before they look at The University of Alabama.”
As executive director of CAVT, Balasubramanian said he will strive to ensure research relies on multiple disciplines in the sciences and engineering so it will serve industry and society.
“They have been doing good work, and I want to learn more about all that they are doing,” he said. “We will need to find areas where the interdisciplinary nature of the center is leveraged to align research to what is required by industry.”
In November 2011, Balasubramanian gave a lecture on campus on the tradition of innovation at Mercedes-Benz, especially in the area of safety. He said he was impressed with the College’s effort to organize research projects in laboratories used by faculty across the College, regardless of engineering focus.
Earlier in 2012, the College opened the South Engineering Research Center that boasts premier facilities including the Engines and Combustion Lab and the Electromechanical System Lab, both of which rely on mechanical, electrical and computer engineers to tackle industry-sought research that also trains students to answer tomorrow’s engineering challenges.
“It’s very seldom that you see a university where different departments collaborate in the same lab, similar to what is happening in industry,” he said. “I was very impressed with how much effort The University of Alabama was putting into reorganizing research around these collaborations.”
Before his lecture on campus in 2011, Balasubramanian encouraged a new partnership between UA and Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., the operator of the Mercedes-Benz automotive plant outside Tuscaloosa, which established a doctoral fellowship. The fellow is assigned a specific project and given research funding with the opportunity to work at the plant and research facilities in Germany.
Approaching retirement, Balasubramanian said he was encouraged by friends at MBUSI to consider coming to Tuscaloosa to teach and research, an opportunity he pursued.
“I want to help make The University of Alabama into one of the best institutions in the U.S. for engineering,” he said.
A native of India, Balasubramanian was interested in transportation from a very young age, and knew since the age of 15, after reading of innovations and quality at Mercedes-Benz, that he wanted to do research for Daimler in Germany. That dream became reality after he graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay in 1973.
The fellowship between UA and MBUSI is like the experience of Balasubramanian, who began working with Daimler while studying for the equivalent of a master’s degree at the Technical University of Karlsruhe in Germany. He was hired full time as a computational analysis engineer in the CAE-department for automatic transmissions and power steering systems after he got his master’s in mechanical engineering in 1977. He earned his doctorate from Karlsruhe in 1983 while working at Daimler.
He took on increasing responsibility in research and development for the company, and, in 1988, he was named chief engineer. In 1997, he became vice president for engineering technologies in the Mercedes-Benz passenger car research and development, and nine years later he was named vice president over all Mercedes-Benz research and development, responsible for about 1,300 engineers in Germany and about 1,000 more in international research and development locations.
A recent innovation Balasubramanian helped develop is Magic Body Control, a feature planned in the next series of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class that uses cameras and radar to scan the road ahead for bumps, allowing the car to adjust its suspension ahead for a smoother ride. The car’s computer logs a road’s surface characteristics to create a road profile as well. He also led research into innovations for advanced cruise control and autonomous braking so that vehicles are capable of slowing in traffic or braking ahead of unexpected intrusions, such as pedestrians, on the road.
Besides his work at Daimler, Balasubramanian also regularly taught the last 20 years at the Technical University of Berlin in the School of Automotive Engineering and Railway Technology, and, in 1998, he was given the prestigious title of honorary professor.
Balasubramanian is married and has two daughters and a granddaughter. He is an avid volleyball player and plays at the sports club at Daimler Sindelfingen and at his village. He is a passionate railroad modeler and big trains photographer of the UP, BNSF and NS lines.
Balasubramanian began his assignment at the University Oct. 1.
In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,900 students and more than 110 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz and Truman scholars.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.