One of the central tenets of RoboJackets as a student organization is our commitment to promoting robotics. One of the best ways to do that is to engage students in robotics as early as possible. FIRST robotics shares this goal and organizes robotics competitions for K-12 students. RoboJackets has played a role in their mission by partnering with them to host the Georgia FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) kickoff where the yearly challenge is revealed on Georgia Tech Campus. Last year was a marked departure from this proud tradition because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, however, the kickoff was hosted in a hybrid format, enabling students to once again return to Ferst Theater for opening ceremonies and workshops. These events were also streamed and can be viewed on YouTube (Link to Playlist). This year, the kickoff ceremonies had 244 in-person attendees, representing 26 FRC teams, and 285 concurrent online viewers at the peak. Even if they were unable to attend in-person, RoboJackets impacted nearly every team in the state with 58 teams picking up their kit of parts from the Ferst Center following the ceremonies and teams watching the workshops virtually from the smaller kickoff location hosted by the 4C Academy in Albany, Ga.
As usual, RoboJackets members hosted workshops to cover some of the basics of skills students need to make successful robots, including the basics of the three disciplines of mechanical, electrical, and software. In addition, RoboJackets hosted a workshop that introduced students to basic controls concepts including PID, motion control, and trajectory following through interactive pseudocode.
We wanted to give a small glimpse into some of the work that goes into running an event like this. Ross is one of the few members of RoboJackets that primarily contributes to the IT and operations part of the organization. At Kickoff, Ross has provided A/V support for years, and is a major contribution to the event running well. He coordinates with on-campus support departments and the presenters to make sure each part of the event goes well. The main difference between this year’s Kickoff and past years’ that were in Ferst Theater was the fact that the in person audience was notably smaller, and the online audience was much larger. Additionally, this was the first year that the in-person workshops were also streamed. According to Ross, “[there was a] need for a high quality remote viewing option. In previous years it hasn’t been as much of a focus since almost everyone was on-site. We put extra time and effort into making the production quality of the live streams as high as possible for that reason.”
We also reached out to Tan Tonge, the current kickoff coordinator (the appointed position that handles FRC kickoff), for comment. The major challenge he cited was the uncertainty around hosting an in-person event in January amid the continuing COVID pandemic. RoboJackets had to closely monitor the latest safety guidance from Georgia Tech and make the best decisions possible to keep the attendees and our student volunteers safe. “We only made the final decision to go ahead during the week [prior to the Kickoff],” Tan said, and continued: “We had to quickly make plans to host the event hybrid with lots of work done by Ross and Evan [Strat, last year’s Kickoff Coordinator] to make it work with streaming the ceremonies from Ferst and the workshops from Klaus.” Tan emphasized that they “maintained transparent communication with the [FRC] teams” regarding COVID policies. They were also able to rely on the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Machines (IRIM) to support the event, as well as Georgia Tech’s environmental, health, and safety department to provide supplies, including hand sanitizer and masks. Through all this work, the team was able to “pull it off with great success and did not hear any cases of virus spread among the attendees.”
In closing, Tan said he “was very glad to be a part of continuing this tradition of hosting the event and heard from multiple of the teams that they were appreciative of us being able to do this to get the students excited for a return to a somewhat normal year.” We also reached out to Shishir Pandit-Rao, the current president, for comment:
The event went very well! It was wonderful seeing all of the excited students coming back for an in-person kickoff. In addition to the kickoff itself, it was really great that the students were able to hear from leaders in the robotics industry such as Panagiotis Tsiotras, the Associate Director of IRIM! This opportunity gives the students the opportunity to see what robotics can be past high school, into college and beyond!