Carnegie Mellon University

Justin Peng at the Toronto Metropolitan University’s Thrill Design Invitational—presented by Universal Creative™

November 21, 2022

Peng Receives Commendation for Excellence at Thrill Design Invitational

Junior Justin Peng might have believed that the most difficult part of the Toronto Metropolitan University’s Thrill Design Invitational—presented by Universal Creative—would be the competitive theme park design challenges. But the 2022 event, held at Universal Orlando Resort in November, threw a truly unexpected twist at the teams—a hurricane.

Category 1 Hurricane Nicole closed Orlando’s airport, stranding part of Peng’s team back in Pittsburgh. It took days for the team to reunite for the four-day competition, which had to undergo some quick changes to accommodate the unique circumstances. In all, 127 students from 18 universities took part in the event, working on everything from theme park design challenges to guest experiences to attraction design.

peng.jpgPeng says that his team was made up of “a wide range of people with different skill sets from CMU's Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG) and CMU Entertainment Technology Center (ETC).” As a part of the competition, teams were provided with a subject and specifications and asked to design theme park rides that best fit the set criteria. 

"The overall competition revolved around designing rides for a themed area called Treasureland. We were given very little restriction and a lot of freedom to design whatever we felt would best solve the challenge,” he says.  

Moving beyond the qualifying round was when the event became decidedly more intense, adds Peng. His team, with three members still unable to fly into Orlando, was given additional challenges on a Thursday morning and expected to present to judges less than two days later. “We stayed up very late on Friday night finishing our presentation. My teammates were very smart and took time in the beginning to delegate tasks and separate the work.”

Peng focused on handling the technical aspects of the rides including how they would work, the type of ride system, any maintenance considerations, emergency evacuation measures, reliability concerns, accessibility, and how many people could ride in an hour’s time. Other team members worked on the narrative to be told during the ride, concept art, vehicle specs, and queue design. 

Peng states that he was aided by experience gained at CEE. “I was able to visualize and see if ideas were practical both in terms of physical size and operationally. Many teams we observed had exceptional rides that were not realistic given their proposals.” Peng mentions that he’d completed CEE class projects that taught him to understand ride design. He also had a secret weapon—he’d previously worked at Kennywood for a summer as a ride operator, helping him to realistically anticipate potential operational and maintenance problems.  

Prior to completing their work, all participating teams met to view each other’s ideas, giving a hands-on glimpse into the level of competition. Peng’s team also fielded questions from the other teams, which served as a solid experience for the judge’s questions on presentation day. 

A trip to Universal Islands of Adventure provided Peng and his teammates a chance to do research on existing themed areas. They then worked through the night to complete their proposal and presentation. It was only during this final preparation phase that the remainder of their team arrived from Pittsburgh. 

Because so many participants had been delayed in arriving in Orlando, the competition changed its scoring system to balance the disruption. “Instead of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, it had multiple areas of excellence recognized, such as excellence in innovation, feasibility, creative skill, or communication,” adds Peng. The team from Carnegie Mellon University received a commendation for excellence in creative skill and integration.  

Peng says that the competition was exciting and a great opportunity to challenge himself while growing in the engineering field. “I give a huge thanks to everyone from Universal Creative for taking the time to provide insight on the amusement industry as well as all the jurors for providing invaluable feedback.”