Connor Werth ’17, MITRE

Princeton_Visit-9874The Princeternship at MITRE with Dr. Sandeep Mulgund *94 was a rare and stimulating glimpse into the realm of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC). During our visit on March 18th, Nikita (the other Princetern) and I were mentored by Dr. Mulgund and introduced to the diverse and fascinating projects currently “in the works” at MITRE.

Before Nikita and I met Dr. Mulgund in the lobby, the close relationship MITRE maintains with the United States was exhibited by the mixture of civilians and uniformed military personal streaming into the facility. This relationship was elaborated on further when we spoke with Dr. Mulgund in his office about MITRE.

As Dr. Mulgund explained, the Department of Defense is one of several “sponsors” within the U.S. Government that MITRE supports. Other groups include: Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. MITRE is chartered by Congress to operate in the public interest. This status means that MITRE does not compete with private firms for business. As such, MITRE is only concerned with serving the public interest with the United States government. MITRE is uniquely able to provide objective guidance to its sponsors. I now understand the FFRDC distinction and the role MITRE has in support of the United States Government.

After our initial discussion with Dr. Mulgund, we proceeded to a variety of demonstrations that he had arranged within the MITRE labs. We saw graphics programs similar to a modern computer game used to simulate real environments and we spoke to researchers studying the human thought process during critical analysis. Next, we were treated to interactive presentations regarding innovative techniques to integrate information from different organizations, methods to enhance soldier communication, and the use of visualization to increase understanding and generate new ideas. Each demonstration was absolutely fascinating and exceptionally entertaining. I was amazed by the variety of the research that MITRE conducts and inspired by the passion that each MITRE employee exhibited when discussing his or her work.

To cap off an excellent day, Dr. Mulgund, Nikita and I spoke with Dr. Mark Maybury, MITRE’s Chief Technology Officer. In this meeting, we conversed on a wide range of current events and scientific topics, which solidified what I learned at MITRE. The importance of conditioning and training the mind through education, discovering interests and passions through exploration, and developing superb communication skills resonated with me and the opportunity to see a working FFRDC lab was absolutely invaluable. Thank you MITRE and Dr. Mulgund for hosting us!

Nikita Turley ’17, MITRE

On Tuesday, March 18th, I, along with fellow Princetern and Arizonan Connor Worth, shadowed Dr. Sandeep Mulgund *94 at the MITRE Corporation in Bedford, Massachusetts. MITRE is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) which provides engineering and technical support to the federal government. Unlike typical contractors, MITRE, as an FFRDC, does not compete with private industry. They do not sell any product, but rather provide an unbiased perspective for the government to use to evaluate potential solutions for many of its most pressing scientific and technical challenges.

Once we had entered the facility, Dr. Mulgund gave us a brief overview of MITRE and its purpose, and then proceeded to describe the work he is involved in. Interesting enough, even though Dr. Mulgund graduated from Princeton with a degree in aerospace engineering, the type of work he does at MITRE is very different than what his degree would suggest. At MITRE, he works as a combat scientist and systems engineer, and aids in the development of crisis response plans for military command centers. He has a whole collection of military coins from the organizations he has worked with over the years.

Following our discussion, Dr. Mulgund showed us to a few of the labs at the MITRE facility where other employees gave us some brief demonstrations of the projects that they were working on. The first demonstration was of a graphics simulator that was implementing already existing graphics software available in industry to provide high quality simulations of military situations. One of the simulations was of a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, and, astonishingly, another was of a raid performed by military personnel on the ground. The second demonstration had to do with neuroscience and the analysis of the biases that arise within the human brain during decision making. This research was being used to evaluate the performance of intelligence analysts and to engineer training solutions that could help eliminate the potential limitations onset by these biases.

The third demonstration was of an architecture MITRE is developing to help improve communication and compatibility between different levels of law enforcement. Because there is no national mandate as to what communication systems law enforcement agencies must purchase, many of the various systems that these agencies employ are incompatible. This presents many issues, especially at large events that require the presence of multiple levels of law enforcement, because many times these agencies will have to resort to archaic methods to keep track of all the different streams of input, such as using post-it notes on a big map to keep track of officer positions. The architecture MITRE is developing would solve this problem because it works across multiple platforms, including computers, phones, and tablets. Essentially, command would be able to see where every officer is on a GPS map in real time, and the officers would be able to flag and label things such as large crowds, riots, etc. on the map in real time. If someone were to label something on their own map, within 60 seconds it would appear across all devices using the app.

The final demonstration was an extension of the same idea, but for military purposes, called the Nett Warrior Android prototype. Soldiers would have a phone with a similar app that would allow them to track in real time the position of other friendly units that were carrying the same device. The app also allows for soldiers to label things in real time such as small arms fire, and even has a measuring tape feature that allows for one to measure the real distance from one point to another on the app’s small map. MITRE is also looking to implement this technology into a headset/eyepiece design such as Google Glass, which Connor and I were allowed to try on. At the time I did not pay much attention to the fact that the phones that they were showing us the app on were Samsung Galaxy S5’s, and it was not until a week after the Princeternship when I was describing my experiences to a friend that it was pointed out to me that the S5 will not be officially released to the public until April 11th, 2014. So in fact, we had gotten a sneak peak of the future and from what I could tell from my limited exposure, the S5 seems like a high quality phone. However, to me a lot of things could seem a lot better compared to my 5-year-old phone.

Once the demonstrations were completed, Dr. Mulgund treated us to lunch, where we discussed more personal topics such as his experiences as a grad student at Princeton and what he thought about the direction certain engineering fields were taking. The most interesting part of this conversation was learning that Dr. Mulgund, despite earning a PhD in aerospace engineering, has never actually worked as a traditional aerospace engineer. Though he enjoyed his experience at Princeton (which included a summer at NASA’s Langley Research Center), Dr. Mulgund went into software R&D upon graduation. He could not help stressing the importance of being exposed to industry and the workplace early on so that we would have the opportunity to see what they’re really like. Dr. Mulgund then explained that this was the primary reason why he had decided to host Princeterns.

After lunch, we had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Mark Maybury, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of MITRE. He had just returned to MITRE from 3 years as Chief Scientist of the Air Force and he was definitely a very intelligent and engaging man. He was very interested in knowing what majors both Connor and I were pursuing in college and what we thought of MITRE so far. From there, we continued to discuss many topics, ranging from neuroscience, to MITRE’s up and coming space program, to his experiences in the Air Force and even to the new app called Sleep Cycle that monitors one’s sleep. Following our conversation, in order to signify the end of our visit to MITRE, Dr. Maybury and Dr. Mulgund presented us with MITRE coins, the start to our own military coin collections.

In an unexpected follow-up to this Princeternship, it turns out that MITRE has a small site here in Princeton at the Forrestal campus where research in quantum computing is conducted. Dr. Mulgund put us in touch with the site leader there, and Connor and I have since made a short visit. We plan to return for a more extended, in-depth tour.

This Princeternship at MITRE was a truly enjoyable experience and has definitely opened up my eyes and provided me with a perspective on what it is like to be an engineer in the workplace. I am very grateful to Dr. Mulgund for hosting us and for all the personal stories that he shared; they were very enlightening, especially since I will soon be going through similar experiences. I am also very appreciative of all the other MITRE employees who took time to demonstrate their work to us. I can only hope that one day I will join them in the work force and help engineer a better future for us all.