Lighting the Way

Lighting the Way

Real-time display of 2012 electoral results on election day

Lighting the Way

Engineer programming LED fixture prior to installation

Lighting the Way

Color Kinetics LED lighting system on the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building used new lighting technology during the 2012 presidential election to display CNN's tally of each candidate's race to 270 electoral votes in real time.

Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Robert Timmerman (E'08), an applications engineer at Philips Color Kinetics, steered the technical aspects of the project from start to finish.

"The goal of the project was to modernize the aging lighting system installed on the Empire State Building. The old system was showing its age, had a limited number of colors, and required several man hours to switch from one color to another," Timmerman explained.

The owner wanted to take advantage of the latest developments in lighting technology to improve the capabilities of the system and reduce energy use. 

"What was done on election night would have been impossible with the previous system, and was relatively easy to do with the new system," he said.

As technical lead, Timmerman was responsible for the system layout, in conjunction with the lighting designer, as well as sorting out many of the more mundane details that make a project go smoothly — logistics, mounting methods, and how to demonstrate a partially installed system for the client.

Timmerman says his CMU education prepared him for the job in a number of ways.

"From an academic perspective, I had a broad but solid background in electrical and computer engineering. This has allowed me to more easily see some of the complications and solutions to the problems one inevitably faces on jobs of this magnitude," he said.

"But much more important than the academics was the practical engineering mindset that was instilled in me, particularly in the higher level courses."

Extracurricular activities, such as being on the Spring Carnival committee, gave him the opportunity to develop the time, project and people management skills that he says have served him well outside of CMU.

"The best thing about CMU is the complete acknowledgment of the real world," Timmerman said.

"At CMU, people understand that solutions need to work in the real world, and not just in simulations or ivory towers."

He added, "At the end of the day, it's not the theory that matters, but what you do with the theory."

Related Links: College of Engineering | Electrical and Computer Engineering | CNN Blog | Color Kinetics

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