Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor


In 1992, Asad M. Madni sat on the helm of BEI Sensors and Controls, overseeing a product line that included a wide range of sensor and inertial-navigation units, however its clients have been much less diversified—primarily, the aerospace and protection electronics industries.

And he had an issue.

The Chilly Battle had ended, crashing the U.S. protection business. And enterprise wasn’t going to return again anytime quickly. BEI wanted to determine and seize new clients—and rapidly.


Getting these clients would require abandoning the corporate’s mechanical inertial-sensor programs in favor of a brand new, unproven quartz know-how, miniaturizing the quartz sensors, and turning a producer of tens of 1000’s of high-priced sensors a 12 months right into a producer of hundreds of thousands of cheaper ones.

Madni led an all-hands push to make that occur—and succeeded past what anybody may have imagined with
the GyroChip. This cheap inertial-measurement sensor was the primary such gadget to be included into vehicles, enabling digital stability-control (ESC) programs to detect skidding and function the brakes to stop rollover accidents. In keeping with the U.S. Nationwide Freeway Site visitors Security Administration, within the five-year interval spanning 2011 to 2015, with ESCs being constructed into all new automobiles, the programs saved 7,000 lives in america alone.

The gadget went on to function the center of stability-control programs in numerous industrial and personal plane and U.S. missile steering programs, too. It even traveled to Mars as a part of the
Pathfinder Sojourner rover.

Important Statistics

Title: Asad M. Madni

Present job: Distinguished adjunct professor, College of California, Los Angeles; retired president, CEO, and CTO, BEI Applied sciences

Date of beginning: 8 September 1947

Birthplace: Mumbai, India

Household: Spouse (Taj), son (Jamal)

Training: 1968 graduate, RCA Institutes; B.S., 1969, and M.S., 1972, College of California, Los Angeles, each in electrical engineering; Ph.D., California Coast College, 1987

Patents: 39 issued, others pending

Hero: My father, general, for instructing me methods to be taught, methods to be a human being, and the which means of affection, compassion, and empathy; in artwork, Michelangelo; in science, Albert Einstein; in engineering, Claude Shannon

Most up-to-date ebook learn: Origin by Dan Brown

Favourite books: The Prophet and The Backyard of the Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

Favourite music: In Western music, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley; in Jap music, Ghazals

Favourite films: Contact, Good Will Searching

Favourite cities: Los Angeles; London; Cambridge, U.Okay.; Rome

Leisure actions: Studying, mountain climbing, listening to music

Organizational memberships: IEEE Life Fellow; U.S. Nationwide Academy of Engineering; United Kingdom Royal Academy of Engineering; Canadian Academy of Engineering

Most significant awards: IEEE Medal of Honor: “For pioneering contributions to the event and commercialization of modern sensing and programs applied sciences, and for distinguished analysis management”; UCLA Alumnus of the Yr 2004

For pioneering the GyroChip, and for different contributions in know-how improvement and analysis management, Madni acquired
the 2022 IEEE Medal of Honor.

Engineering wasn’t Madni’s first alternative of occupation. He needed to be a high-quality artist—a painter. However his household’s financial state of affairs in Mumbai, India (then Bombay) within the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties steered him to engineering—particularly electronics, because of his curiosity in current improvements embodied within the pocket-size transistor radio. In 1966 he moved to america to review electronics at the RCA Institutes in New York Metropolis, a faculty created within the early 1900s to coach wi-fi operators and technicians.

“I needed to be an engineer who would invent issues,” Madni says, “one who would do issues that may finally have an effect on humanity. As a result of if I couldn’t have an effect on humanity, I felt that I’d have an unfulfilling profession.”

After two years finishing the electronics know-how program on the RCA Institutes, Madni went on to
the College of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), receiving a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1969. He continued on to a grasp’s and a Ph.D., utilizing digital sign processing together with frequency-domain reflectometry to research telecommunications programs for his dissertation analysis. Whereas finding out, he additionally labored variously at Pacific States College as an teacher, at Beverly Hills retailer David Orgell in stock administration, and at Pertec as an engineer designing pc peripherals.

Then, in 1975, newly engaged and on the insistence of a former classmate, he utilized for a job in Systron Donner’s microwave division.

Madni’s began at Systron Donner by designing the world’s first spectrum analyzer with digital storage. He had by no means really used a spectrum analyzer earlier than—these have been very costly devices on the time—however he knew sufficient concerning the principle to speak himself into the job. He then spent six months working in testing, choosing up sensible expertise with the devices earlier than trying to revamp one.

The mission took two years and, Madni studies, led to 3 important patents that began his climb “to greater and higher issues.” It additionally taught him, he says, an appreciation for the distinction between “what it’s to have theoretical information and what it’s to commercialize know-how that may be useful to others.”

He went on to develop quite a few RF and microwave programs and instrumentation for the U.S. navy, together with an analyzer for communications traces and hooked up antennas constructed for the Navy, which grew to become the premise for his doctoral analysis.

Although he moved rapidly into the administration ranks, finally climbing to chairman, president, and CEO of Systron Donner, former colleagues say he by no means completely left the lab behind. His technical mark was on each mission he grew to become concerned in, together with the groundbreaking work that led to the GyroChip.

Earlier than we speak about the little quartz sensor that grew to become the center of the GyroChip, right here’s a bit background on the inertial-measurement models of the Nineteen Nineties. An IMU measures a number of properties of an object: its particular pressure (the acceleration that’s not resulting from gravity); its angular fee of rotation round an axis; and, generally, its orientation in three-dimensional area.

A photo of a close up of a microchip

The GyroChip enabled digital stability-control programs in vehicles to detect skidding and prevented numerous rollover accidents.
Peter Adams

Within the early Nineteen Nineties, the standard IMU used mechanical gyroscopes for angular-rate sensing. A package deal with three extremely correct spinning mass gyroscopes was concerning the measurement of a toaster oven and weighed a few kilogram. Variations that used ring-laser gyroscopes or fiber-optic gyroscopes have been considerably smaller, however all high-accuracy optical and mechanical gyros of the time value 1000’s of {dollars}.

In order that was the IMU in 1990, when Systron Donner bought its defense-electronics companies to BEI Applied sciences, a publicly traded spinoff of BEI Electronics, itself a by-product of the venerable Baldwin Piano Co. The gadget was huge, heavy, costly, and held transferring mechanical elements that suffered from put on and tear, affecting reliability.

Shortly earlier than the sale, Systron Donner had licensed a patent for a very completely different sort of fee sensor from a bunch of U.S. inventors. It was little greater than a paper design on the time, Madni says, however the firm had began investing a few of its R&D price range in implementing the know-how.

The design centered on a tiny, dual-ended vibrating tuning fork carved out of quartz utilizing normal silicon-wafer-processing strategies. The tines of the fork could be deflected by the Coriolis impact, the inertial pressure performing on an object because it resists being pulled from its aircraft of rotation. As a result of quartz has piezoelectric properties, adjustments in forces performing upon it trigger adjustments in electrical cost. These adjustments may very well be transformed into measurements of angular velocity.

The mission continued after Systron Donner’s divisions grew to become a part of BEI, and within the early Nineteen Nineties BEI was manufacturing some 10,000 quartz gyroscopic sensors yearly for a categorized protection mission. However with the autumn of the Soviet Union and ensuing speedy contraction of the U.S. protection business, Madni frightened that there could be no extra clients—not less than for a very long time—for these tiny new sensors and even for the normal mechanical sensors that have been the principle a part of the division’s enterprise.

“We had two choices,” Madni remembers. “We stick out within the sands and peacefully die, which might be a disgrace, as a result of no one else has this know-how. Or we discover elsewhere we are able to use it.”

“If I couldn’t have an effect on humanity, I felt that I’d have an unfulfilling profession.”

The hunt was on. Madni says he and members of his analysis and advertising and marketing groups went to each sensors convention they may discover, speaking to anybody who used inertial sensors, no matter whether or not the functions have been industrial, industrial, or area. They confirmed the quartz angular-rate sensors the corporate had developed, touting their worth, precision, and reliability, and laid out a path by which the units grew to become smaller and cheaper in just some years. NASA was —and finally used the units within the Mars Pathfinder Sojourner rover and the programs that allowed astronauts to maneuver about in area untethered. Boeing and different plane and avionics-system producers started adopting the units.

However the automotive business clearly represented the most important potential market. Within the late Eighties, automobile corporations had begun introducing primary traction-control programs of their high-end automobiles. These programs monitored steering-wheel place, throttle place, and particular person wheel speeds, and will modify engine pace and braking after they detected an issue, resembling one wheel turning quicker than one other. They couldn’t, nevertheless, detect when the course of a automobile’s activate the highway didn’t match the flip of the steering wheel, a key indicator of an unstable skid that might flip right into a rollover.

An image of part of a circuit.
This quartz tuning fork responds to inertial forces and kinds the center of the GyroChip.

Peter Adams

The business was conscious this was a deficiency, and that rollover accidents have been a big explanation for deaths from auto accidents. Automotive-electronics suppliers like
Bosch have been working to develop small, dependable angular-rate sensors, principally out of silicon, to enhance traction management and rollover prevention, however none have been prepared for prime time.

Madni thought this was a market BEI may win. In partnership with
Continental Teves of Frankfurt, Germany, BEI got down to cut back the scale and value of the quartz units and manufacture them in portions remarkable within the protection business, planning to ramp as much as hundreds of thousands yearly.

This main pivot—from protection to one of the aggressive mass-market industries—would require huge adjustments for the corporate and for its engineers. Madni took the leap.

“I instructed the fellows, ‘We’re going to must miniaturize it. We’re going to must deliver the value down—from $1,200 to $1,800 per axis to $100, then to $50, after which to $25. We’re going to must promote it in lots of of 1000’s of models a month after which 1,000,000 and extra a month.’”

To do all that, he knew that the design for a quartz-based fee sensor couldn’t have one further part, he says. And that the manufacturing, provide chain, and even gross sales administration needed to be modified dramatically.

“I instructed the engineers that we are able to’t have something in there aside from what is completely wanted,” Madni remembers. “And a few balked—too used to engaged on complicated designs, they weren’t thinking about doing a easy design. I attempted to clarify to them that what I used to be asking them to do was
extra tough than the complicated issues they’ve finished,” he says. However he nonetheless misplaced some high-level design engineers.

“The board of administrators requested me what I used to be doing, [saying] that these have been a few of our greatest individuals. I instructed them that it wasn’t a query of the most effective individuals; if individuals are not going to adapt to the present wants, what good do they do?”

A photo of a seated man in a dark suit with binary numbers on the wall behind him.
Peter Adams

Others have been prepared to adapt, and he despatched a few of these engineers to go to watch producers in Switzerland to study dealing with quartz; the watch business had been utilizing the fabric for many years. And he supplied others coaching by consultants within the automotive business, to study its operations and necessities.

The adjustments wanted weren’t simple, Madni remembers. “We now have lots of scars on our again. We went via a hell of a course of. However throughout my tenure, BEI grew to become the world’s largest provider of sensors for automotive stability and rollover prevention.”

Within the late Nineteen Nineties, Madni says, the marketplace for digital stability-control programs exploded, on account of an incident in 1997. An automotive journalist, testing a brand new Mercedes on a check observe, was performing the so-called elchtest, also known as the “elk check”: He swerved at regular pace, aspiring to simulate avoiding a moose crossing the highway, and the automobile rolled over. Mercedes and opponents responded to the dangerous publicity by embracing stability-control programs, and GyroChip demand skyrocketed.

Because of the take care of Continental Teves, BEI held a big piece of the automotive market for a few years. BEI wasn’t the one sport on the town at that time—Germany’s Bosch
had begun producing silicon-based MEMS fee sensors in 1998—however the California firm was the one producer utilizing quartz sensors, which on the time carried out higher than silicon. Right this moment, most producers of automotive-grade fee sensors use silicon, for that know-how has matured and such sensors are cheaper to provide.

Whereas manufacturing for the auto market ramped up, Madni continued to search for different markets. He discovered one other huge one within the plane business.

The Boeing 737 within the early and mid-’90s had been concerned in a
collection of crashes and incidents that stemmed from surprising rudder motion. A number of the failures have been traced to the plane’s energy management unit, which included yaw-damping know-how. Whereas the yaw sensors weren’t particularly implicated, the corporate did want to revamp its PCUs. Madni and BEI satisfied Boeing to make use of BEI’s quartz sensors in all of its 737s going ahead, in addition to retrofitting current plane with the units. Producers of plane for personal aviation quickly embraced the sensor as nicely. And finally the protection enterprise got here again.

Right this moment, digital angular-rate sensors are in nearly each automobile—land, air, or sea. And Madni’s effort to miniaturize them and cut back their value blazed the path.

By 2005, BEI’s portfolio of applied sciences had made it a gorgeous goal for acquisition. In addition to the speed sensors, it had earned popularity of its improvement of the unprecedentedly correct pointing system created for the
Hubble Area Telescope. The sensors and management group had expanded into BEI Sensors & Methods Co., of which Madni was CEO and CTO.

“We weren’t in search of a purchaser; we have been progressing extraordinarily nicely and seeking to nonetheless develop. However a number of individuals needed to purchase us, and one, Schneider Electrical, was relentless. They wouldn’t quit, and we needed to current the deal to the board.”

The sale went via in mid-2005 and, after a short transition interval and turning down a management place with
Schneider Electrical, Madni formally retired in 2006.

Whereas Madni says he’s been retired since 2006, he really retired solely from business, crossing over right into a busy life in academia. He has served as an honorary professor at six universities, together with the Technical College of Crete, the College of Texas at San Antonio, and the College of Waikato, in New Zealand. In 2011, he joined the school of UCLA’s electrical and computer-engineering division as a distinguished scientist and distinguished adjunct professor and considers that his dwelling establishment. He’s on campus weekly to satisfy together with his advisees, who’re working in sensing, sign processing, AI for sensor design, and ultrawideband high-speed instrumentation. Madni has suggested 25 graduate college students up to now.

One among his former UCLA college students, Cejo Okay. Lonappan, now principal programs engineer at
SILC Applied sciences, says Madni cares quite a bit concerning the impression of what his advisees are doing, asking them to write down an govt abstract of each analysis mission that goes past the know-how to speak concerning the larger image.

“Many instances in tutorial analysis, it’s simple to get misplaced in particulars, in minor issues that appear spectacular to the individual doing the analysis,” Lonappan says. However Madni “cares quite a bit concerning the impression of what we’re doing past the engineering and scientific group—the functions, the brand new frontiers it opens.”

S.Okay. Ramesh, a professor and former dean {of electrical} engineering and pc science at
California State College, Northridge, has additionally seen Madni the advisor in motion.

“For him,” Ramesh says, “it’s not nearly engineering. It’s about engineering the longer term, exhibiting methods to make a distinction in individuals’s lives. And he’s not discouraged by challenges.”

“We had a bunch of scholars who needed to take a headset utilized in gaming and use it to create a brain-control interface for wheelchair customers,” Ramesh says. “We spoke to a neurologist, and he laughed at us, stated you couldn’t do this, to watch mind waves with a headset and instantaneously switch that to a movement command. However Prof. Madni checked out it as how will we clear up the issue, and even when we are able to’t clear up it, alongside the way in which we are going to be taught one thing by making an attempt.”

Says Yannis Phillis, a professor on the
Technical College of Crete: “This man is aware of quite a bit about engineering, however he has a variety of pursuits. After we met on Crete for the primary time, for instance, I danced a solo Zeibekiko; it has roots from historic Greece. He requested me questions left and proper about it, why this, why that. He’s inquisitive about society, about human habits, concerning the surroundings—and, broadly talking, the survival of our civilization.”

Madni went into engineering hoping to have an effect on humanity together with his work. He’s happy that, in not less than some methods, he has finished so.

“The area functions have enhanced the understanding of our universe, and I used to be lucky to play part of that,” he says. “My contributions [to automotive safety] in their very own humble method have been accountable for saving hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world. And my applied sciences have performed a job within the protection and safety of our nation. It’s been probably the most gratifying profession.”

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