6–10 January 2020
Hyatt Regency Orlando,
Orlando, Florida

Culture of Innovation Key to Being a Disrupter


Speakers: Amy Pritchett, professor and head, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Pennsylvania State University; Kathy De Paolo, vice president of technology, The Walt Disney Co.

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

AIAA SCITECH FORUM, San Diego, Jan. 10, 2019 — The aerospace community must embrace a culture of innovation in order to harness the power of disruptive technologies, Kathy De Paolo, Disney’s vice president of technology, said In her keynote address “Applying Disruptive Technologies in Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products.”

From the internet of things to voice recognition technology to augmented reality to robotics, Disney has incorporated disruptive technologies throughout every facet of its organization.

“Technology is what powers the magic behind Disney,” De Paolo said.

She said Disney helped pioneer these technologies, such as in 2013, when the company introduced IOT into its parks with the Magic Band. The radio-frequency wearable allows guests to board shuttles, bypass lines, securely unlock their hotel rooms and pay for meals and photos.

De Paolo said connected devices are enabling context-aware computing on a new scale and constitutes “a major enabler for autonomy and on-demand.”

The “juggernaut” of disruptive technology, she noted, is artificial intelligence and machine learning. De Paolo said AI refers to machines and programs behaving with human-like intelligence and that machine learning is a specific type of AI in which computers learn without being explicitly programmed.

“Either way,” De Paolo said, “we’re talking about enabling levels of autonomy previously only imagined.”

From computer vision to natural language processing to predictions and recommendations, machine learning applications are affecting every segment of every industry. De Paolo said organizations and industries must keep up with the constantly evolving technology.

“This is not a game where you can sit comfortably on the sidelines and wait for emerging tech to become mainstream tech,” she cautioned.

De Paolo said the three key forces driving the rate of acceleration in innovation are connectivity, democratization of technology, and the process of continuous innovation. She said that connectivity is not only a contributor on its own but also an enabler of the other two. So, De Paolo said, Disney has built connectivity directly into its organization.


Kathy De Paolo, vice president of technology at The Walt Disney Co., delivers keynote address on "Applying Disruptive Technologies in Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products,” Jan. 10 at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (AIAA SciTech 2019) in San Diego.

Part of that strategy, she said, is in hiring.

“While in some cases it makes sense to hire for a very specific skillset, our preference is to hire the best possible talent and invest in training as we need to pivot based on where the field is heading,” she said. “It’s an investment that pays dividends as it gives our tech teams the tools and training they need to contribute across a variety of technologies in today’s evolving landscape.”

Getting started right away and being data-driven are the keys to success, De Paolo advised.

“The best way to learn how to generate the right data for ML is to start doing ML,” she said, noting that 80 percent of machine-learning projects involve “wrangling the data,” which often leads to unanticipated benefits.

“A culture of innovation is key to being a disrupter,” De Paolo said. “And that culture needs to extend up and down levels and across teams.”

Watch the full video for more details.

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