At Georgia Tech’s Boot Camp, Students Take Coding to the Skies

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On the first day of their Georgia Tech Coding Boot Camp, Thomas Yeager, Alexander Gonzalez, and Geoffrey Goodwin walked into class separately. Four months later, they walked in as a team—with a fourth team member, not quite human.

Taking it to the next level

As part of the intensive web development program, students are required to complete three projects that put their new skills into action. Since Yeager, Gonzalez, and Goodwin happened to sit next to each other on that first day, they teamed up.

From the get-go, this team had soaring ambitions. For their first project, they developed a dictation application that translates natural speech into HTML code. “You basically had the potential to write a whole site just by speaking,” said Yeager. “The class was impressed—and we were motivated to impress them even more with project two.”

The team started brainstorming. After a bit of research, they decided it would be cool to apply the voice command feature from project one to robotics—more specifically, to drone technology.

Project Skynet was born—with an AR drone named after the renowned intelligence system in The Terminator becoming team member number four.  

“Web development is ubiquitous across industries,” said Goodwin. “We wanted to explore the ways in which these skills related to other aspects of technology. The idea of bringing [our original application] into the physical world, of using the drone as a vehicle for exploring robotics, really excited us.”

Setting the bar high  

The team set lofty goals for Project Skynet. They didn’t want to just control their drone with voice commands. They also wanted to develop pre-programmed flight plans that could be executed with the click of a button.

“We wanted to choose a more futuristic technology to gain experience in,” said Gonzalez.

“Using drone technology to fly autonomous flight plans for search and rescue, for disaster recovery—things like that would be practical,” added Goodwin. “These are real things that people are doing. How exciting to test our skills and see if we—students who have ‘no right’ to do a project like this at this stage in our education—can make it work. What do we have to lose by trying?” he said.

Facing the challenge head-on

The team didn’t let up for a second. For starters, they agreed to keep their project under wraps: no easy feat when you’re working with a sizeable, noisy drone.

They also pledged to accomplish as much as they could without help.

This decision was all the more risky when you consider the framework they chose. They went with Angular, a TypeScript-based platform that isn’t on the Boot Camp’s JavaScript- and React-focused curriculum.

Their confidence didn’t waiver. They were sure the skills they’d gained learning JavaScript and React would help them learn Angular, too—and they were right. The program had given them the foundation to pick up a completely foreign coding language and use it successfully.

They pushed onward, but not without some expected challenges.       

“Angular was aspirational,” said Goodwin. “It would have been a challenge to build any project with Angular, which we hadn’t learned and is more complex. But to do it simultaneously while working with a bunch of other technologies we had never used before presented a lot of frustrating challenges,” he added, recalling marathon coding sessions.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the support wasn’t there when they needed it.

“We were doing a highwire act. [Our instructors and TAs] were our safety net,” said Goodwin.

Showcasing the spirit of Boot Camp

The team didn’t hit every ambitious goal. But what they presented to the class was still, by all accounts, impressive: a voice-operated drone, with single-button control over multiple drone functions.

And they’re each perfectly happy with that. The members of Project Skynet upped the ante—and came out learning.

“For me, the beauty of this, the benefits it provides for us, is that there’s no real risk of failure,” said Goodwin. “We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If it doesn’t get to 100% working, it still doesn’t mean it was for naught.”

“I’m honestly shocked at how much we’ve learned in the short amount of time we’ve been doing this,” said Gonzalez. “It’s just mind blowing. It’s been a great opportunity and something that will help me for the rest of my life.”

Check out the team’s full Project Skynet presentation below:

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