Notable Alumni - Jamie Schiel

BE (Hons) Mechatronics Engineering

Co-Founder and CTO at Stable Auto

Jamie

Jamie was born and raised in Christchurch, a graduate of Christchurch Boys High School and the UC’s College of Engineering where he achieved his class’s top honor, the Templin Scroll. He pioneered drone use by electrical utilities, before landing at MIT Media Lab in Boston where he built a billion-frames-per-second camera for automotive and medical sensing. After MIT, while introducing robotic charging to electric autonomous vehicles, he encountered a major barrier to widespread adoption of EVs: EV infrastructure today is scarce, and yet often a poor investment.

Along with two fellow MIT engineers, Jamie left MIT to found Stable Auto with the aim to accelerate investments in EV infrastructure by making them predictable and effective, empowering a new market for charging solutions, which is a critical but under-served requirement of the green transportation revolution. Their mission is to make driving an EV possible in every corner of the globe through affordable, convenient infrastructure.

Jamie has been named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for 2022 joining the brightest and boldest young entrepreneurs in North America. He is the only New Zealander to make the 30 under 30 list this year, and is a pioneer to watch in the field of energy. Below Jamie reflects on his time at UC.

What drew you to study a BE at the University of Canterbury?

I was part of the initial cohort of Mechatronics Engineers at UC. It was a brand-new program at the time, and one of the first of its kind in New Zealand and abroad. UC’s willingness to explore new fields such as Mechatronics, and ability to attract top academic faculty, was a major factor in my choosing to study there. 

My association with UC goes back much further, however. I was a regular at Cafe 101 since I was 6 years old when my dad, a Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology at UC, would walk me to Ilam Primary School every morning with a coffee in his hand, and a “fluffy” in mine. During high school, I even worked in the Fluid Dynamics department running experiments for post-graduate students.

 

Has your career evolved the way you expected?

There have been several turns in my career – it’s difficult to stick to a long-term plan in engineering because technology can evolve rapidly in unexpected directions.

My career trajectory has been strongly influenced by the emergence of practical Artificial Intelligence, paradigm changes to transportation, and broad recognition of climate change as one of the most urgent global challenges of our generation.

I initially had my heart set on a PhD, having in mind that staying in academia would be the best path to working on these problems. I think that equation is changing for a lot of people recently, and it certainly did for me. Most “startup”-style businesses don’t require a PhD, and offer a chance to work with highly motivated and mission-aligned people, with broad intellectual freedom, and access to abundant and eager funding.

There can be a lot of personal and professional challenges when making a switch from academia to startups, and adapting your technical skillset to keep pace with new fields, but it ultimately can be very rewarding. The strong fundamentals taught at UC are great preparation for anyone trying to do similarly.

What would be your career highlight to date?

I’ve been fortunate in working with some of the brightest engineers in the world at MIT: my closest collaborators were Achuta Kadambi (now a Professor at UCLA), Ayush Bhandari (now a Professor at Imperial College London) and Ramesh Raskar (Director of the Camera Culture group at MIT). I founded Stable with two engineers I met at MIT (Rohan Puri and Shantanu Sinha), and even had the chance to converse with Marvin Minsky, the “father” of AI, shortly before his passing.

A big challenge in engineering can often be just knowing where the leading edge is. Patents, Non-Disclosure Agreements, and trade secrets can be particularly difficult for young engineers to navigate. Places like MIT are fantastic for quickly finding the frontier of your field, which can be very liberating. 

All of that has proven to be critical stepping-stones for me. Now, with the growing popularity of open courseware and publications, it’s becoming much easier for the next generation of engineers to have similar experiences. I think that’s a powerful trend, and I’m excited to see what it brings. 

What goals do you hope to achieve with Stable Auto?

Our mission is to make driving an EV possible in every corner of the globe. A major barrier to that is infrastructure: EV chargers today are scarce, and yet often a poor investment. 

Today, around 10% of publicly-accessible chargers account for almost 90% of use, and many are not profitable. Making matters worse, the cost of power can fluctuate by orders of magnitude each day.

When I and my partners started Stable, it was not clear that these issues could be overcome. We’ve been able to demonstrate for the first time that by carefully optimizing energy costs, incentives, equipment sizes and locations, it is possible to predict and improve EV charging performance before installation. 

The benefits of predicting charger use and optimizing power cost before installation can be tens of millions of dollars for infrastructure operators, but more convenient and affordable charging ultimately benefits consumers. 

Our machine learning-based software makes effective investments in EV charging simple and accessible for businesses everywhere, and helps cities build sustainable markets for EV charging. 

You were recently named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, which is a huge achievement. How did that feel?

Of course, I was pretty surprised and delighted to receive this award. More importantly, it’s great recognition of our whole team at Stable, and the positive impact our company is having. 

The award has had an interest beyond anything I could anticipate. We can only hope it leads to the business successes we hope for.

What motives / inspires you?

Like many engineers, I am motivated by big questions and gnarly problems. One of the biggest and most urgent questions of our generation is climate change. How we slow, and even reverse, the effects of global warming is a complex issue, and will require many different solutions. One thing is clear, however: the technology we have today is not enough to halt climate change, but it will hopefully mitigate its effects on societies. New technologies with broad and rapid adoption are still needed, and that is a great source of inspiration for me.

The biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are from the energy and transportation sectors. My work at Stable sits firmly at the intersection of the two, and enables vast transportation networks to be built around sustainable energy with far fewer environmental impacts.

There is no shortage of problems to solve, and it’s no wonder that ever more engineers are rising to the challenge. The problems are technically challenging, potentially rewarding financially, and to the benefit of society and the quality of people’s lives.

Looking back at your time at UC, what memories and experiences have stayed with you?

I can’t think of anyone that has affected my interests and career more than Dr. Andrew Bainbridge-Smith. My work with him in my last two years at UC was critical at MIT and beyond. 

I joined MIT with no small amount of nervousness that I was in over my head. I’ve learned since that it’s a feeling most people have when joining MIT, and I needn’t have worried: the courses at UC led by Dr. Bainbridge-Smith (along with Prof. Michael Hayes) proved to be among the very best in the world, and I was well-prepared. 

That experience has made me staunchly proud of UC, and the wonderful lecturers that teach there.