Virtual Tools Used 2021 Season
This season, Ri3D has been very different from what we’re used to. Not being able to meet in person changed both the planning process and the actual event. We were able to use a variety of tools to connect and collaborate virtually, including Slack, Notion, Zoom, G Suite, Discord, Relay, GitHub, and GrabCAD.
Slack is used by thousands of business teams for professional communication. We used Slack primarily for asynchronous communication before, during, and after the event. We created channels, such as a planning committee, content, software, and a general channel for everyone. The planning committee used Slack through the planning process to schedule meetings, send important reminders, ask questions, and provide updates on our progress. After the event, we are using Slack to coordinate the final robot release and stay connected.
Notion is an online collaborative workspace and productivity platform. We used Notion primarily in the planning process to create pages of information for different subteams, to keep an updated task list, and to take planning committee meeting notes.
One of the powerful features of Notion is the ability to create and organize large chunks of information in databases. In a master database, we tracked status on forms, subteam preferences, and placements. This master database got large quickly, so we created pages with different views of the database. By creating pages with different views, we were able to update information across the entire database as necessary.
As of March of 2020, Zoom has become an increasingly integral part of our lives. Before the official Ri3D timeframe, the planning committee held our weekly meetings on Zoom. We recorded these meetings in order to keep a record of our decisions and to allow team members who were unavailable to watch later.
The main reason we used Zoom during the event is because of the streaming software we were using. While it did work with Discord, it was easier to use Zoom. We held all-team meetings, created subteam break-out rooms, and held some interviews as well.
However, it’s worth noting that since we had access to university Zoom accounts, we were able to hold longer meetings without being kicked off.
Google is one of the giants of the internet, providing emails, search engines, and everything in between. Since our organization is based out of NC State, we all have access to school accounts that provide some additional G Suite features. The main apps we used were Google Drive, Docs, and Google Calendar.
Google Drive is an easy place to organize and store documents, videos, images, and forms. Before the event, the planning committee used Drive to upload and share the recordings of committee meetings. By creating a shared drive, we had an easily accessible and efficient way to work on blog posts, share videos and stream recordings, and create forms for before, during, and after the event. Since there was minimal delay between document updates and edits, it was easy for subteams to work on projects together through Drive.
Google Calendar is great for scheduling team meetings and tracking RSVPs for meetings. The planning committee scheduled meetings and sent out Zoom links through Google Calendar. Before the event, the planning committee outlined two schedules for the event, a streaming schedule and a general schedule. By using Google Calendar, we were able to easily share these with the entire team. Members could also decide which calendar they wanted to view and if they needed extra notifications.
Branded as a tool primarily for gamers, Discord is arguably one of the better messaging and video apps for larger groups. We used Discord during the Ri3D event. The main reason we chose this platform is because of the ability to create a server with different meeting rooms and text channels. These rooms were easy to organize and change, and by assigning roles we could ensure nobody would accidentally hop into the middle of a stream. Also, it was easy to notify the team whenever we needed to.
One of the most helpful aspects was the different meeting rooms. Our server included two general meeting rooms, an “All Hands on Deck” room, a programming channel, a build team channel, and a “virtual stage” for our streams. Having all these rooms allowed our virtual members to easily split and work on separate projects while still being accessible to everyone. These rooms also had their own text channels.
Relay was one of our sponsors this year. They graciously provided devices that allowed us to connect our onsite and virtual teams. A Relay device is walkie talkie reimagined with the features and convenience of a cell phone. All of our onsite participants used Relay devices to talk to each other (even when they were at different locations) and connect to the virtual team. While the virtual team did not have physical Relay devices, they used the Relay’s virtual software.
GitHub is how we synchronized code between on-site members and programmers working remotely. GitHub works around a central repository for a project, which multiple developers can push to and pull from. While it's very useful for synchronization, it also has extremely useful tools for development, such as branching, which allows for individual features to be developed independently of the main codebase and then seamlessly merged back in. Changes are separated into commits, and the combined commit history allows for easy rollbacks in case something goes awry. Put simply, GitHub is like Google Drive for code, but slightly more complex and with a lot more features. Check out our Git video for more details and a tutorial!
GrabCAD is how we hosted a database for all of our CAD files. Much like GitHub, GrabCAD has a cloud-based online workbench, and multiple engineers can sync their CAD files between their computers and the cloud-based workbench. GrabCAD enables a team of engineers to simultaneously work on CAD files, and helps expedite the engineering and design process. GrabCAD also helps keep track of the various changes made, so if you ever want to go back to an older version, you can easily find the version that you want. Overall, GrabCAD is a very useful tool for collaboration during the CAD process.