Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Time at Disney Research or The Best Graduate Internship I've Had EVER

From April 2012 to April 2013, I had the most amazing opportunity to intern at Disney Research in Pittsburgh, PA. You read that correctly: in Pittburgh, not Orlando or Florida. Disney Research has a facility in the Robert Mehrabian Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC) at Carnegie Mellon University. Disney Research has several research groups including robotics, sports tracking, and image processing. The research there is done to improve guest experiences at the Disney parks as well as to improve sports programs broadcast by ESPN. (Disney owns ESPN after all.) I did research in the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) position tracking and sensing group led by Dr. Joshua Griffin. This was the best internship I've ever had, and I really hope to do research there again after I finish my PhD at CMU.

I found lots of perks for working at Disney. First, I gained a plethora of valuable skills and experiences. Not only did I learn how RFID backscatter tags work, I gained more experience in antenna and RF printed board circuit design. I also learned how to program Texas Instruments MSP430 microcontrollers. In this day and age of ubiquitous electronics, I believe that understanding how to develop embedded hardware and software is important. It also gave me a good deal of self-confidence, as I know that I can do anything that I set my mind to doing. If I come across a technical area (during my PhD or during my career post PhD) that I know nothing about, I can teach myself and become an expert in that field. Second, I met a lot of great people from around the world. I found it fitting that Disney Research Pittsburgh's intern area was lined with "It's a Small World" themed paintings. In addition to my USA friends, I made friends from China, Israel, Iran, Venezuela, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, and several more. Third and finally, all of the interns got a Disney paid trip to Disney World, and I went there in June 2012. The trip is a combination of business and pleasure, as it allows interns to have fun at Disney World while learning how and why our research is important for the Disney Company. We spent three days split between Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom Park. I've included a picture of Walt Disney's statue at the Magic Kingdom.

Walk Disney Statue with Dove on Top (Copyright Jonathan Becker)
Now, I have something really cool to share. It happened to be Star Wars Weekends at DisneyWorld, and last year Disney had the "Carbon Freeze Me" exhibit open in Hollywood Studios near the Star Tours Ride. Star Wars fans would go through this exhibit made to look like the Carbonite freezing chamber in Empire Strikes Back, and each guest could pay $100 to have a 3D photo of his/her head, and the guest would receive a 3D printed figure of them frozen in Carbonite. (OK, it was Han Solo's body with the guest's head 3D printed where his head was.) We all took part in a Star Wars quiz contest, and I tied with another intern from Disney Research Boston. What was the prize you ask? We both got 3D pictures of our heads and a free 3D printed figure of us frozen in Carbonite. I've included the 3D picture of my head and my "Carbon Freeze Me" figurine below.

3D Picture of My Head (Copyright Jonathan Becker)

My "Carbone Freeze Me" Figurine (Copyright Jonathan Becker)

Zoom-In of my Figurine Showing My 3D Printed Face (Copyright Jonathan Becker)
In short, my internship at Disney Research was the best internship I've had ever. I really enjoyed my time there, and I met some wonderful people including Dr. Griffin and MK Haley (Disnerd and knower of all things Disney). I really hope to work there again after I graduate and earn my PhD in hopefully a year's time.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University