The 25th IEEE ETFA Conference (International Conference on Emerging Technologies and Factory Automation), an international meeting for experts in the field of automation technology, was planned as a conference with around 400 participants. All of them were supposed to have come to Vienna in person. But then coronavirus happened. Which posed a challenge for the conference chair, TU professor Thilo Sauter.
“We had to completely rethink how to organize the conferences”
“We had to completely rethink how to organize the conferences,” Sauter describes the situation in the spring and summer. A safety concept was drawn up. Hygiene and distancing rules were just as important as efficient contact tracing, in order to be able to quickly determine who was sitting where and when. Supposedly trivial procedures required a lot of thought: “How do I get 70 participants into a room relatively quickly and how can I still trace who sat next to whom?” Yet apart from the safety questions, the organizers were primarily occupied by how the hybrid transfer of knowledge would take place. After all, the content matters.
Creating good connections
“During the preparations, we constantly had to ask ourselves how the conference would work for remote participants,” says Sauter about the new planning process that had become necessary. “We always looked at the conference procedure from both sides first, so that we could also offer the virtual participants an appropriate conference experience.” The presentations on-site in Vienna were streamed to the web. “The virtual participants recorded their presentations on video beforehand. The contributions were recorded to minimize technical problems,” says Sauter. However, discussions were held via live link-ups. “Our primary goal was to create the best possible connection between both groups in terms of content.”