I met Dr. Dennis Matthies (*70 *74) at Frist Campus Center for a short drive down Washington Road to Sarnoff's laboratories (the official name of Sarnoff Corporation has been changed to SRI International). As we entered the building, he told Josh Chen '14 (the other Princetern) and me about the rich history of the laboratories. Sarnoff was formerly part of RCA Corporation and the location of innovations such as the color television, liquid crystal displays, high-definition television, and many others.
We went from the past to the present as we went through an iris scanner that identifies employees as they walk through it and over to Dr. Matthies' office, where he told us about his current responsibilities in the company. Dr. Matthies is Senior Program Manager of Products and Services for Sarnoff; his job involves coordinating projects with clients and Sarnoff's engineers. A typical day for him involves responding to issues that appear on email, monitoring project progress, communicating with clients to learn about requirements, and organizing engineers to develop the products and software necessary to meet these requirements. It is not all sitting at a desk, however; while we there, Dr. Matthies helped an engineer prepare and pack for a trip to California for testing.
Since 2001, Sarnoff has primarily done contracting for the Department of Defense, making use of their expertise in vision systems to help the military. Dr. Matthies told us about TerraSight, Sarnoff's software suite that helps the military make use of video information from stationary cameras and Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs). A key component of this is geo-locating the video so that people can determine whether they have seen a certain spot before. Later, one of Dr. Matthies co-workers, Ric, showed us a computer model similar to Google Earth where they can overlay the live video onto the model to monitor places like airports.
An example of the TerraSight system as it would look in the field. These boxes can coordinate video from multiple video sources such as UAVs and ground cameras as well as displaying inputs from non video inputs such as radars. (Photo from Sarnoff's website.)
Before lunch, we met Dalton Pont, who is working to establish Sarnoff as a Center of Excellence in Augmented Reality. He described applications of virtual reality for training soldiers and first responders, but also for education and even the fashion industry! As a Center of Excellence, Sarnoff would coordinate with researchers around the country to further the field. After lunch, we followed Dr. Matthies to two meetings, a light day for him. Dr. Matthies meets with other managers and engineers to coordinate proposals for the future as well as hear about progress on current projects.
Dr. Matthies got his undergraduate degree in physics and started working at Sarnoff while he was a graduate student in Device Physics at Princeton. One of his early projects was a video disc, a precursor to the DVD. He was soon put in charge of a large aspect of the project, creating the disc, and even got to ride the corporate jet when he flew from RCA to the manufacturing plant! He worked on a number of projects afterwards, doing research that won him a number of patents. Dr. Matthies worked on projects with applications in many different fields from large screens for projectors to medicine to the defense projects he works on now. He strongly believes that his education prepared him to learn about many different projects and become an expert in several different topics. On the job, Dr. Matthies learned more about how business is run and dealing with many different people as he found projects for his research group. To him, "work is just the next phase of learning" and he encouraged us to seek out challenging opportunities to learn new things.
The most valuable part of the day for me was hearing about Dr. Matthies' experience and the range of his projects. From his perspective the world of defense contracting made a lot more sense and I have garnered a much greater appreciation for the work of managers. I would enthusiastically recommend the Princeternship program to anyone curious about a career path or industry; as Dr. Matthies pointed out, Princeton alumni are very eager to share their expertise and experiences with current students!