How I found it…
I had a short conversation with two visiting research engineers from the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO) R&D center in Kanagawa, Japan early in the Spring 2019 semester. I talked about some in-class and other projects that I was a part of throughout my first year, while they described to me their processes and ongoing projects. I followed up with them late in the spring. Soon they told me - I got the job! I was going to be the first intern in the Human Machine Systems group – they said they created the internship for me, which was very cool.
Getting there and exploring…
I landed in Tokyo a week prior to my start date. I wanted to explore the city and get a feel of the daily lifestyle of the people there. For the duration of my internship, I spent time visiting some beautiful shrines and hydrangea fields in my spare time. Some of the places that I visited: Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, Nara, and Kamakura. I had lots of Japanese food – my favorites were Okonomiyaki (a grill for yourself dish), Ramen (the real ramen), Kare Raisu (curry on rice), Miso Soup (soy broth-based soup with additions, like tofu and fish cakes), Yakitori (grilled chicken), and Matcha products (drinks, ice creams, sweets). I also climbed Mt. Fuji and visited a bunch of festivals and places with an Olin alum.
Moving in and adjusting…
My role was at the MELCO R&D center in Kanagawa prefecture, which is adjacent to Tokyo. In Tokyo, a very touristy place, it was easy to get by using English to communicate. In Kanagawa, however, it was a bit of a learning curve to start living there as a beginner in Japanese. Since it was not very touristy – people had little to no practice conversing in English. Living in a Japanese city was a whole new experience for me – technology was so well integrated into everyday lives of people – at some sushi restaurants, I could very easily order food, eat, and exit without ever conversing with a real person.
At work, I had a lot of help adjusting from one of my co-workers, who was specifically assigned the job of helping me get around and do the day-to-day activities such as buying food, travelling, or translating text (on maps, during some meetings, etc.) in Japanese.
Mitsubishi Electric Corporation Nagoya Works, Aichi, Japan Left: Me, Right: Tak-san
Projects and work…
As an Industrial Automation Intern in the Human Machine Systems Department, my projects were related to designing automation solutions for human operators in manufacturing plants. One of the projects I worked on, which was released 10/19, was part of the KOTSUMON System. This system uses AI to draw metrics on human operators’ motion data to analyze their daily productivity and efficiency. I also did two shorter projects that dealt with software for automating factory layout design, and engineering workflow system development for the new industry PLM software. Long link: https://www.mitsubishielectric.com/news/2019/1009.html
Traveling for work…
I wanted to practice user-centered software design, so I attended some conferences and visited different MELCO manufacturing plants - manual-labor based, semi-automatic, and fully automatic facilities around central Japan. The conversations with the factory supervisors were very insightful for my projects, and I was able to get a sense of how users can participate in the R&D process in order to make the software more useful to them.
I had a 15-minute check-in with my supervisor on most days of my internship. I was able to get a lot of advice on my projects during or outside of the regular check-ins. I asked lots of questions to my co-workers, and they were always ready to work through problems with me. I also presented my weekly progress in the form of presentations to my group – they were detailed in every sense, with relevant plots, graphs, data, visual demonstrations, possibilities, ideas, and next steps.
This was an amazing summer, not only because I was practicing new programming languages, but because I was designing for a completely different audience than I had in the past. I wanted to not just create an automation product for factories, but also a tool for operators to personalize the piece of world-class technology (PLCs and CNCs) to monitor their work throughout the day, computationally.
Without a doubt, my summer at Mitsubishi was one of my biggest learning experiences ever!