The Big Picture

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jan 2, 2018

Alumnus helps sports fans experience world’s largest LED video display

When more than 71,000 fans pour into Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch the College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 8, their eyes will inevitably drift upward to view the 58-by-1,100-foot LED halo video display board considered to be the largest of its kind.

On the ground below will be Gary Smith, a 2006 graduate of Southern Polytechnic State University – now Kennesaw State University – and a field service engineer with audiovisual company Daktronics. Smith served as installation supervisor during the display’s construction and continues to provide game-day technical support at the stadium that serves as the home to the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United Football Club.

Gary Smith

Smith attributes his role in helping to install and service the world’s largest display, in part, to good timing. While cleaning up after a career fair held at Southern Polytechnic in 2005 he was approached by Robert Harrell, of Daktronics.

“Do you love sports,” Harrell asked him. “Is your major engineering?”

Smith, who later earn a degree in computer engineering technology, quickly replied, “Yes,” to both questions.

“Well, I have an opportunity for you,” Harrell said.

Smith handed Harrell his resume and was eventually offered an internship with the company. After graduating, he began working full-time as a technician and later as an installation supervisor. He spent the next few years helping crews install displays at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.; then at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.; and later at his alma mater, where he oversaw the installation of video boards at the KSU Convocation Center and at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

“I felt a huge sense of pride going back to Kennesaw State,” Smith said. “I trace my roots back to Marietta and SPSU. It’s the place I learned everything I know, and I’ve been able to apply those teachings to this day, including on the biggest video display in the world.”

Smith said he first visited SPSU while a senior at Atlanta’s Westlake High School and immediately fell in love.

“The great thing about Southern Polytechnic, and now at KSU, is the hands-on approach,” Smith said. “We would go to class to learn concepts and immediately go to lab to apply those teachings. That was huge for me being a technical person.”

One class activity that he finds particularly applicable to his current work was a semester-long project in Digital III taught by Lance Crimm, who now chairs Kennesaw State’s electrical engineering department. The course, which provides students with an industry-like project development cycle experience, required Smith and his classmates to build a universal home remote. The remote, complete with a small LCD screen, would be programmed to do certain tasks on a miniature house, such as open the garage door, operate light fixtures and flush the toilet.

Crimm said seeing a former student apply those concepts on a much larger scale gives him an overwhelming sense of pride. Since graduation, Smith has been invited back to the Marietta Campus to share his work experience.

“I’m so thankful for alumni like Gary, who take the hands-on engineering experience and skills they gained while at Southern Polytechnic and apply their tremendous life-long learning to their careers,” Crimm said.

When he learned that Daktronics had won the bid to build the 360-degree halo display, Smith said he immediately raised his hand to join the project. In all, it took a crew of about 20 sign hangers to install each of the 616 sections that comprise the display. About 15 electricians and a handful of Daktronics technicians were on hand to wire the video board. In addition to the halo display, Daktronics also installed the stadium’s “mega column,” a 101-by-71-foot display that wraps around four sides of a column near the main entrance.

As installation supervisor, Smith managed the crew of sign hangers and was responsible for ensuring the halo display was powered correctly. He performed a series of tests once the installation was complete.

When the display powered on for the first time, he was standing in what would eventually be the east end zone. It wasn’t until Atlanta United played a home game that Smith was able to see fans react to the board. He stood near Gate 2 to watch their faces as they filed in past the mega column display.

“The first thing you saw everyone do was bring out their phone and point it at the halo board,” he said.

Knowing that others could enjoy a project of that magnitude, he said, gives him a sense of accomplishment. As an avid sports fan – and converted Falcons fan – Smith said he’s glad to combine his passion with engineering.

“It’s been the greatest ride of my life,” he said.

– Travis Highfield

Photo by Daktronics

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