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Sahar Kokaly, MASc '08

Software Engineering | Making Tomorrow’s Car Safe

Today’s new cars are sophisticated marvels of technology. A typical new vehicle model contains over 100 million lines of code, with software controlling many safety-critical systems such as adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane-centering and lane-departure warning systems.

Ensuring the safety of these computerized systems, particularly as they evolve and new features are added, is the job of safety engineers.

Sahar Kokaly, a contract researcher at General Motors Canada and a research assistant/PhD candidate in Software Engineering at the McMaster Centre for Software Certification (McSCert), aims to make that job easier.

“My research focuses on the use of model-based software engineering methods to automate the management of safety cases in automotive systems, and therefore support the safety engineers in reasoning about the safety of these systems as they evolve,” explains Kokaly.

She says that working with GM while completing her PhD has allowed her to ensure her research work remains practical.

It’s an opportunity that came about as a result of a $20 million government-funded software research collaboration known as NECSIS (Network on Engineering Complex Software-Intensive Systems). The collaboration brought together industry and academic researchers to work on model-driven engineering for complex software systems.

Kokaly, who served as president of the Software Engineering Club in 2006 while earning her B.Eng in Software Engineering, went on to complete her Master’s degree at McMaster in 2008.

After a three-year stint working for IBM, she returned to begin her PhD and take a position as a McSCert research engineer on the NECSIS project. She now acts as a liaison between GM experts and researchers at McMaster and the University of Toronto on a recently awarded $2 million project to develop methods to ensure the safety and reliability of autonomous and electrified vehicles, helping turn academic results into industrial practice. 

“I am really excited about the idea of self-driving cars, and their potential to increase safety on the roads,” she says. “As software engineers, we have a responsibility to ensure that the software we develop is safe, and this is what interests me most about the work I am doing.”