UC Berkeley students make finals for Disney design competition

The UC Berkeley finalist team of the 2013 ImagiNations
Competition with their project “SAMM-E: Sustainable Automated Meal
Mobile.” From left to right: Tiffany Yuan, Andrew Lin, Kathryn Moore
Gary Krueger/Courtesy
The UC Berkeley finalist team of the 2013 ImagiNations Competition with their project “SAMM-E: Sustainable Automated Meal Mobile.” From left to right: Tiffany Yuan, Andrew Lin, Kathryn Moore

A team of UC Berkeley students has made it to the finals of a national Disney-sponsored design competition and will present their project at the Walt Disney Imagineering headquarters this week.

The competition, ImagiNations, called on college students to choose any city in the world and design a Disney experience for its residents. Drawing on Berkeley’s green reputation, the three students — Andrew Lin, Tiffany Yuan and Kathryn Moore — created SAMM-E, which stands for Sustainable Automated Meal Mobile – Earth Class.

SAMM-E, a robot-turned-food-truck sent from the world of WALL-E to help humans restore a deteriorating planet, is an interactive experience that allows guests to create their own customized, fully organic meals. According to its creators, SAMM-E promotes sustainability by hosting solar panels on its back as well as a self-cultivating garden on its side. Because he is mobile, SAMM-E can travel throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

“This project made it to the finals (because) it stretched how most people perceived Disney,” said Soledad Boyle, interim project manager for the competition. “You’re talking about environmental (concerns) … which is something we haven’t done before, even though (addressing) the environment is one of our initiatives.”

The students, currently competing in Glendale, Calif., will present their projects to Imagineering executives and meet with Disney Imagineers. They will also have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Disney and be interviewed for paid internships.

One goal of the competition, according to a press release from ImagiNations, is to allow “Imagineers to look for the next generation of creative and innovative thinkers for potential recruitment.” ImagiNations is sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of Disney responsible for the design and development of its theme parks.

The students are competing against five other teams from universities across the country, with the winning team receiving $3000. Competing designs include a bus tour through London’s history joining Mickey Mouse, and journey alongside Donald Duck across tropical Brazilian landscape, among others.

“We have been really excited to see what the other teams are working on because we’ve been wrapped in a Berkeley bubble, working on SAMM-E all by ourselves,” Moore said,  a fifth-year masters student studying mechanical engineering.

According to Yuan, a fourth year architecture student, the three worked collaboratively on developing the concept but then separated to complete specific  tasks based on their individual expertise.

“Coming from architecture and the College of Environmental Design, I really wanted to stress that green design is definitely something for the future and something we really need to work on,” Yuan said.  “I incorporated the whole sustainability aspect of it, to make SAMM-E rely on renewable sources.”

According to the press release, contestants will be judged in part the team’s ability to collaborate across different disciplines, as well as each member’s mastery of their individual skills.

Lin, a fourth-year bioengineering major whom teammates call the most avid Disney fan of the group, said he has so far been most enthused by the chance to see original concept art and Disneyland’s initial development.

He said he is especially inspired by Disney’s “magic” ability to bring the impossible to reality.

“It’s a dream that has come true, to be a finalist in this competition and to be here at Imagineering headquarters,” he said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity.”

Virgie Hoban covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected].

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