Former Bright Spark tells Kiwi kids to dream bigger
Back in 2004, Refael Whyte entered the Skills Bright Sparks competition and had no idea the impact it would have on his tertiary education and career choice.
Where his interest began
Refael reflects that at school he was always naturally curious about Science and Mathematics, “It may seem that Maths is all about rules, but in reality you are using maths to solve problems. It’s the creative use of the tools that Maths provides that creates solutions."
The Skills Bright Sparks competition encourages this type of interest in our young Kiwis. Competition entries are required to be technology based; designed and/or created to solve a real-world problem. The challenge steered Refael into the realm of electronics where his curiosity swelled. "The creative solutions that tech can provide have always interested me," Refael explains, "but what really drew me to electronics was its hands-on orientation, actually creating a physical product that you can touch."
You may be surprised to find out that Refael didn't win a prize at the competition. However, the exposure and mentoring he received gave him something far more valuable - a career choice he hadn't considered before. "Bright Sparks was a big help by exposing what an electrical engineer does. At high school you're exposed to the traditional professional careers, such as doctors and lawyers,” Refael says, “Engineers are kind of these magical things and no one really knows what they actually do."
Achieving his dreams
Finishing high school, Refael began his studies at the University of Waikato and graduated with a first-class honours degree in electrical engineering. He specialised in Time of Flight (ToF) cameras, which create 3D images. He built his own ToF camera which included designing the print circuit board, circuitry construction and programming of the camera.
After graduation, Refael won an internship at Microsoft Silicon Valley, California, where he worked on the 3D imaging capabilities of the Xbox One. Refael returned to NZ to complete his PhD and as a consequence of his specialism spent ten months studying at MIT, Boston.
Through all his studies and work he was able to really explore his field of interest and the world by spending time in Brussels and United Kingdom for Microsoft as well as attending conferences in Israel and Spain.
He credits Skills Bright Sparks for this, "When it came to choosing a major at university, I knew I wanted to do something Science and Engineering related. I think having the exposure to electronics when I entered Bright Sparks really influenced my decision to go with Electrical Engineering and cascaded into where I am today."
Refael is now a co-founder of the 3D vision technology developer, Chronoptics. The company designs 3D camera systems, building on a decade of ground-breaking research conducted in the Range Imaging research group of the University of Waikato, developing technologies and algorithms to improve the quality and overcoming limitations of ToF imaging systems.
His advice to young inventors
Refael tells young Kiwis to dream bigger and that with hard work and dedication you can achieve your goals, “I think the competition is a great opportunity, deadlines are a fantastic motivator. It’s great to have an idea and do something about it and with Skills Bright Sparks you get the support and mentorship to really give it a go.”