Gilford High School students Connor Craigie, right, and Cameron Fraser test a shooter prototype for launching balls into a receptacle. The one they tested fired balls 30 feet in the air. They are team members in Gilford High School's FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — Robotics Competition. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Gilford robotics team powers ahead with steampunk-themed competition
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — A stairwell at Gilford High School became an early testing ground for a robot component, one that launched balls 30 feet into the air.
"We should have a drivable robot by the end of the week," said Connor Craigie, senior and team member for four years on Gilford High's highly decorated FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — Robotics team.
On Wednesday, Jan. 18, at Gilford High, Craigie and teammates contemplated the complex robot parts that they need to design and build by March 3, when they will compete at the 2017 Granite State District meet at Windham High School.
"We really like to work in parallel, so we like to do things at the same time and attack the problem from all sides to get it done as fast as possible because we have a six-week time frame and it goes by really fast," said Craigie.
In 2012, Gilford High's team went to St. Louis for the national championships.
This year, a LEGO league program has started at Gilford Middle School.
"We hope to use that as a feeder, get the students engaged, excited about robots, and bring them in," said Christopher Drever of Gilford, who is in his 12th season as a mentor for the high school team.
Drever, director of infrastructure in the information technology services department at Plymouth State University, said students relish the "challenging and fun environment" of robotics competition.
"Most students, once they've attended an event, they come back, the vast majority come back. It's fun, it's hard work, it's long nights," he said.
On Jan. 7, inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen launched this season at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. Kamen revealed the competition theme, FIRST Steamworks, "an industrial airship-themed game played by two alliances of three robots each." The teams will board robots onto steampunk-style aerial machines inspired by the era of steam-powered technology.
After districts, Gilford hopes to advance to the 2017 New England FIRST District Championship hosted by the University of New Hampshire April 6, 7 and 8, at Whittemore Center Arena in Durham.
"We had a great year last year," Drever said. "We won the Windham competition. We did quite well at the second competition at UNH and that earned us a seat at the district championship in Hartford, Connecticut, and we placed well. We didn't get on to St. Louis, which is the World Cup, but we have high hopes for this year."
Last year's robot remains in the team's storage room.
The game in 2016 was called "Stronghold," with the idea of designing a robot to storm a castle.
Coach Mike Andrews, manufacturing engineer with New Hampshire Ball Bearing, said last year's team won its first technical award, for innovation and control, as well as an entrepreneurial award.
"Every year it's always a different aspect and a different competition. So this year it's called Steamworks, and it's the first time there's actually a structure in the middle of the playing field," Andrews said.
Student Cameron Fraser built five different shooter prototypes for launching balls. The one tested on Wednesday fired balls 30 feet in the air.
"It's great, it's a lot of fun," Fraser said of the competition. "It's a great way to learn the engineering method. It gets you hands on, you use a ton of tools you would in a shop in any engineering firm."
Students take to it "like a duck to water," Andrews said. "They dive in head first and go right at it. It really excites them."
Craigie, the team member who helped with the ball-launch test, used a computer program to design robot parts. Computer-assisted drafting allowed him to craft the drive train of the robot.
"We've manufactured a bunch of the parts," he said. "Me and a few other fellow seniors go to the Huot Tech Center and we actually learn about CNC (computer numerically controlled) machinery and manufacturing."
Plates for robot panels are designed as code in a computer program, Craigie said.
"These things will cut right out, they'll do tool changes and everything, it's crazy."
With fewer than three dozen days left in the 46-day period to complete the robot for competition, Drever said the lessons come with priorities.
"Safety first, gracious professionalism comes second and the robot comes third. The gracious professionalism, we hammer it home to these guys because it's what helps make us a team, helps us work together."
Enthusiasm bubbles over. Students plead to stay after hours to develop the robot, Drever said.
"Over the 12 years we've been doing this, students have been offered over $640,000 in college scholarships. This year I'm told there's $50 million in college scholarships available to FIRST Robotics students," he said. "It changes trajectory in the lives of the kids. That's why we volunteer and donate our time."
Freshman Sophie Leggett said joining the robotics team took her outside of the traditional science classroom setting.
"It's a lot more physical applications of what I've learned in science and math rather than thinking about it in abstract terms," she said.
Katrina Boucher, another freshman, said she heard about the robotics team from a friend and has enjoyed applying her math instruction.
Jackie Drever, advisor, helps with fund raising and finances for the Gilford High team. The team members voiced appreciation of numerous sponsors who help pay for the participation.
For more information on FIRST, visit firstinspires.org.
Christopher Drever, director of infrastructure in the information technology services department at Plymouth State University, displays the 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition invention at Gilford High School. Last year's team won the Granite State District Event. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
Students are shown working on last year's robot at Gilford High School. (Courtesy photo)