Espen Knoop: Closing the gap between simulation and reality at Disney Research

Espen Knoop in mountainous landscape

Espen Knoop: Closing the gap between simulation and reality at Disney Research

Former engineering mathematics student Espen Knoop explains how a love of Lego™ and practical maths lead him to Disney Research in Switzerland.

Espen Knoop in PhD graduation robes
Espen Knoop in PhD graduation robes

I was always destined to be an engineer. I was really into Lego™. I liked taking things apart, finding out how they worked.

I knew I wanted to go to Bristol University but wasn’t sure whether to choose maths or something more applied like mechanical engineering. Then I came across engineering maths and it’s a perfect mix between the two. If you’re faced with a problem, it gives you the mathematical tools you need to find a solution. It’s really focused on real world issues, and you work with real data.

It was also a good community to be part of, both within my year and in the Engineering Mathematics Department. There’s a lot of flexibility in the third and fourth years with a wide choice of optional units so you can follow your interests. I chose mechanical engineering and robotics, but other people on my course went into AI or into bioinformatics.

What did you do after graduation?

I stayed on to do a PhD with the advisor from my final year soft robotics project. Then, towards the end of my PhD, I was at a conference and met some people from Disney Research. They were advertising a post-doctoral position that was a good fit for my skill set, so I joined Disney and I’ve been there ever since.

What does your work involve?

Full interview

I’ve worked on several different robotics research projects, everything from fundamental inverse kinematics to soft robotics to human robot interaction. At the moment, I’m working on simulation and optimisation tools for designing and building robots. My role focusses on the hardware and mechanical engineering side. We’re trying to understand how we can close the gap between simulation and reality.