2023 Student Essay Contest: Grand Prize Winner

“Anjali Dhabaria’s Journey in Mathematics”

by: Adeline Elder (Blacksburg Middle School)

Interviewee: Anjali Dhabaria (Torc Robotics)

Anjali Dhabaria works every day to do something that has never been done before, create fully self-driving vehicles. Many engineers have attempted this, but Dhabaria’s company, Torc Robotics, is very close. Her job is “mapping and location.” She uses algorithms, a set of logic rules, to figure out every tiny detail of the road and where the vehicle is located on it. She figures out where every bush, pole, and sign is, and then codes it into a digital map. This map is then used by the self-driving vehicle to define a route or a list of directions for how to get somewhere. Some of the routes spread hundreds of miles! Anjali Dhabaria finds her job at Torc exciting and with much freedom, but her path was not always an obvious one.

Growing up in India with a dad and brother who were engineers, and a mom who worked in science and biology, Anjali Dhabaria’s interests grew in mathematics and science from an early age. As a child, she was wild, curious, and very interested in the world around her. School life in India is a bit different than in the U.S. All grades go to one school for elementary, middle, and high school. Kids start school at the age of 3-4 and can end around the age of 14-15. They study subjects including science, math, English, and social science (social studies), and participate in sports and a club. As a child, Dhabaria was interested in dance and music. She also played ping pong as her sport.

After primary school, Dhabaria continued her education in undergraduate school. Her friend had introduced her to computer science, and she really liked mathematics and logic, so she decided to get her degree in it. But she still wanted to learn more. So at age 21, Anjali Dhabaria moved from India to America to go to the Georgia Institute of Technology to get a masters degree. For the first time in her life, she had to cook and clean for herself. She was all alone, but soon she had to focus on jobs; she needed the experience and money. During college, Dhabaria got a part-time job as a software engineer. She did not enjoy it much, though, because she felt restricted and limited by her company; she couldn’t apply her knowledge and creativity to mathematics and science. She moved on to tutoring math. Dhabaria found it much more enjoyable. Not only was she meeting other students, but she was also proud of how she could remember math from earlier in her life and help others to understand. This made Dhabaria realize that maybe being a software engineer wasn’t her dream job, or was it?

During college, she was one of the few women who were in many of her math classes. For most people, this might be discouraging, but for Dhabaria, this motivated her. She felt special and just as good as any boy. She was one of the few women who were accepted into these classes. She worked as hard as possible; this was her opportunity, and she would not let it get away.
She kept working hard until one day Georgia Institute of Technology had a career fair. One of the booths that happened to be there was Torc Robotics. Dhabaria walked up to their booth and talked to their representatives. They told her about what Torc does, and that they dream of creating self-driving vehicles. There was an immediate spark. She realized that she wanted to be a part of making this incredible technology. She would still be a software engineer, but with Torc, she could be creative and share her knowledge and creativity, instead of feeling limited. After college, it was off to Blacksburg, the headquarters of Torc Robotics!

Dhabaria started working with Torc, and she found it amazing! She finally found her dream job. A place where she could work with creative, open-minded engineers, and think outside the box. “It feels amazing to test your own software on a vehicle!” Dhabaria told me with a grin that went cheek to cheek. Torc was her absolute favorite job ever.

Dhabaria now uses geometry to represent features on the map/road, such as bushes, lane lines, and poles. Her team also uses mathematics to create models of the vehicle and sensor data. They design algorithms using algebra and calculus so the vehicle can accurately locate its exact location on the map. Optimization and fusion techniques are also used to develop solutions that ensure the accuracy of the vehicle’s location. She had a long journey but finally found her calling. She advised me that whatever job I choose to do, I need to always welcome new ideas, try new things, and always be motivated to follow my dreams, even when it seems impossible. Anjali Dhabaria is an amazing engineer that is making the impossible a true reality.