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Telecom student live streams robotics competition
Telecom student live streams robotics competition
Gabe Odachowski at the controls
Gabe Odachowski "pushes buttons" for the live web stream of the "Rumble in the Roads" FIRST Robotics Competition.
Ray Price photos

Telecom student and robotics enthusiast Gabe Odachowski took the initiative to do a live web stream of the "Rumble in the Roads" FIRST Robotics Competition, which was held at Menchville High School in November.

The off-season competition was presented by FRC teams 2363 - Triple Helix from Menchville High and 1610 - Builders of Tomorrow from Franklin High. It is a practice competition that does not lead to district or national competitions, but is still a large event.

The "Rumble" was held in Menchville's gym, and the game for all competitions in 2016 was called "Stronghold," which was a castles-under-seige scenario. Students used remote-controlled robots to load, aim, and fire playground balls into the window of the opponent's tall tower. Points were awarded for getting the ball in, with more points awarded for the higher window.

Thirty teams from across Virginia and Maryland participated in the competition. It is sponsored each year by FIRST, which is a non-profit charity whose goal is to inspire and encourage young people in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). According to its website, it was founded in 1989 and is based in New Hampshire. FIRST stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology."

Gabe is a junior at Menchville and often assists with A/V production there.  He had done a live stream of the "Rumble in the Roads" last year, after event planner Matthew Lythgoe suggested it.  But Gabe wanted to do it better this time, and knew he could do it.

To pull it off, he borrowed HD equipment from Telecom to capture the video. He used three cameras and the TriCaster, which is best described as a "TV studio in a box." It is a multi-camera production system that includes a video mixer, audio mixer, text generator, and more "bells and whistles" to create a professional-looking production. It affords encoding and streaming capabilities, too. 

Gabe, who Telecom Supervisor Ray Price called "The Audio-Visual Commander in Chief," spent months researching the best way to live stream on the Internet cheaply and efficiently. He used YouTube and did many test streams before the event. The better equipment from Telecom "definitely increased the quality of the stream," he said.

The day before the event, Gabe worked in the gym setting up and testing the equipment for nearly 12 hours.

"A/V setup is very tedious," he said.

The next day he was back at 6 a.m.

There were some bugs to fix and more testing, but once it was set up, it was "mostly a one-man operation," he said.

"Once the event started, I just sat and pushed buttons. I pushed a button when I needed to push a button," he said.

"Which kind-of surprised me," he added.

Fellow Telecom student Darin Cooper, also a junior at Menchville, assisted with camera work and at times filling in for Gabe pushing buttons.

Gabe is part of the Telecom crew that records the high school football games using a multi-camera setup and the remote video production truck. Recording the robotics competition was similar in that it is a game on a "field," but he didn't use as many cameras in the production.

Lythgoe, the event planner, wanted a fixed shot of the whole court most of the time, Gabe explained, "so the most action could be captured. The teams will review it, and they want to see it all."

"Changing cameras would be cropping out a lot of content," Gabe said. "With football you just follow the ball, but with this, the action is the whole field."

What Gabe liked best about streaming the event was “doing something different," he said.

"A lot of my time is in school, learning general stuff, not actually doing things.  But doing research and then actually doing the job – showing off my skills – was exciting,” he said.

 Was there stress involved?

Upcoming event

FIRST Chesapeake District competition

March 17-19

Churchland High School in Portsmouth

30-40 teams competing for scores to go to the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship in Richmond

Free and open to the public

Teams have six and a half weeks to build the robots and be ready for the competition.

See this year's game: 2017 FIRST Robotics Competition STEAMWORKS Game Animation

“Absolutely … without a doubt,” he said.

“When you're live, if you mess up anything, it's on the stream, and not just YouTube but also on the huge projection screens in the gym,” he said.

Gabe’s live steam was also carried by a website called The Blue Alliance (thebluealliance.com), which posts scores for robotics competitions taking place around the world.

Gabe plans to do the live stream again next year, but is hoping to simplify it some.  He says what he has learned from his experience is to "expect the unexpected."

 All in all, Gabe is pleased with the outcome of his hard work.

"For only the second year, and with as complicated a setup as this, it went as smoothly as it possibly could," he said.

In the future, Gabe would like to continue to be involved in "Rumble in the Roads," even once he's in college. He plans to study Information Technology, but is not sure what college he will attend. Wherever he ends up, he hopes to make it back for the Rumble.

"We have alumni who volunteer for the event. It's something I like doing and they like me doing it," he said of live-streaming the competition.

"The event planners want to focus on the event … not the specifics of the live stream," he said.

"When you're a nerd and you join a robotics team, you get attached," he stated, "and you will travel hours and hours to get back for an event."

Gabe’s live stream of the “Rumble in the Roads” competition ended up running for over nine hours.

Rumble in the Roads photo gallery: