ASCE Innovators and Disney Imagineers Inspire Each Other

July 22, 2016
The ASCE Innovation Contest winners in the Internet of Things category enjoyed a sunny day at Walt Disney Imagineering.
The ASCE Innovation Contest winners in the Internet of Things category enjoyed a sunny day at Walt Disney Imagineering.

Rule No. 1 about business trips to Disney: Never tell the kids.

Jason Magalen, P.E., M.ASCE, learned the hard way last week in the midst of his visit to Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, CA, as a winner of ASCE’s Innovation Contest.

“I was on the phone with my kids, and my wife told my kids that I was going to Disney, which caused their already-in-progress meltdown to be exacerbated,” Magalen laughed.

Magalen and other winners of the contest’s Internet of Things category enjoyed an extremely productive day at the Imagineering campus, the home of all design and development for Disney parks and attractions around the world.

The contest winners took a behind-the-scenes tour, including a look at handmade models for new attractions, a visit to the sculpture studio featuring hundreds of busts of some of Disney’s most iconic characters, a trip inside Imagineering’s virtual reality room, and a visit with Lucky, an animatronic dinosaur.

“It was fantastic for a geek like me to be able to see that kind of stuff,” said Magalen, a coastal engineer for HDR Inc. in Portland and a former president of the ASCE Oregon Section.

“To see what the Imagineers get to do on a daily basis, the innovation and the use of the advanced technology, it was really spectacular.”

The Disney-sponsored event was the final one for winners in each of four categories in ASCE’s inaugural Innovation Contest, launched last winter by the Industry Leaders Council as part of the ASCE Grand Challenge to reduce infrastructure life-cycle costs, one of ASCE’s three strategic initiatives.

While the tour was inspiring, the presentations – wherein the winners got to share their innovative ideas with a group of high-ranking Imagineers – were the event’s highlight.

Martin Voorma presents his "Smartline" idea.

Martin Voorma presents his “Smartline” idea.

Magalen’s submittal, “Rise of the Drones: How Unmanned Surveying Can Help Make Our Coasts Resilient,” investigated ways to use small unmanned aerial vehicles to collect data about coastlines.

“With the advancement of technology in the form of drones and small UAVs it just seems to make a lot of sense,” he said. “The accuracy is improved. The economy is improved. You can collect more data, more frequently, for less money.”

Magalen’s drone proposal proved to be the top-honored innovation in the contest. It received the Overall Winner award for Greatest Impact in Achieving the ASCE Grand Challenge, the Best Value Award in the contest’s Resilience category, and the Most Efficient Award at the Disney event.

Martin Voorma, an innovation manager for Arcadis, came all the way from the Netherlands to present his “Smartline” idea, which earned the Most Innovative Award.

“Advanced Drone Technology to Handle Disasters in Underground Construction and Mine Sites,” submitted by Purushottam Gupta, earned the Internet of Things Best Value Award. It shared Best Student Innovation recognition with “Capitalizing on the Internet of Things to Promote Water Conservation,” submitted by Morgan DiCarlo, S.M.ASCE, a recent graduate of New York’s Stony Brook University. (DiCarlo talked about her Innovation Contest experience with ASCE News.)

“I thought the presentations were great. We’re always looking for innovations,” said Minerva Perez, P.E., manager of civil engineering for the Environmental Design and Engineering studio of Walt Disney Imagineering.

“It was very inspiring that there are a lot of people out there looking to make things better, and we can definitely learn from all of their work.”

As for Magalen’s kids? Don’t worry, he did well at the Disney Imagineering Store to make sure they didn’t feel too left out.

“The day was fantastic,” he said. “I felt really honored to be asked to be a part of this.”

ASCE’s second Innovation Contest opens Sept. 1.

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