Fired up for FIRST

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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


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

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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)

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Students are shown working on last year's robot at Gilford High School. (Courtesy photo)

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Car crash takes life of Meredith woman


GILFORD — A 33-year-old Meredith woman was killed in a two-car collision on the bypass Wednesday evening when she apparently lost control of it while headed down the hill toward Route 11.

Police said Bree Robinson, 33, was taken by Gilford Fire Rescue crews to Lakes Region General Hospital where she died from her injuries.

According to reports from Gilford police and fire officials, it appears that Robinson lost control of her Honda Civic and it traveled into the northbound lane where it was T-boned on its passenger side by a 2004 Toyota Land Cruiser being driven Kathleen Beckwith, 57, of Wolfeboro.

Fire Chief Steve Carrier said the Honda also struck the northbound guard rail and had serious front end damage as well.

Beckwith was taken by ambulance to LRGH for observation and then released, said police.

The bypass was closed from just after the accident, which was reported at 7:15 p.m., until just after midnight while an traffic accident reconstruction team from the New Hampshire State Police took measurements to help determine the cause.

Both the on-site police official and Carrier said the road was snow-covered and extremely slippery and while it's too early to determine the actual cause of the crash, Police Lt. Kris Kelley said they are not ruling out poor road conditions and weather as a cause.

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A Meredith woman died in this collision on the Laconia Bypass Wednesday night. (Courtesy Gilford Fire Department)

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Man found guilty of selling drugs that resulted in death


LACONIA — When she heard the Belknap County jury foreman say "guilty," the mother of a 21-year-old man who died of an fentanyl overdose on April 2, 2015 wept as she realized that the person responsible for selling him the drugs was going to prison for a long time.

01-18 Brian WatsonWhile parents Judy Tilton and Peter Fogg said they wanted to "gather their thoughts" before they made any official statements to the media, the looks on their faces was one of tears and relief as at least part of their nearly two-year long ordeal came to a close Wednesday with 52-year-old Brian Watson's conviction.

"I hope this brings some comfort to the family whose son is gone forever," said Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier, who complimented his detective team of Nathan Buffington and Bryan Kidd-Keeler for all of the hard work they did putting together the case against Watson.

On Jan. 10, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen began methodically laying out her case as to why Watson was the only person who could have provided the fentanyl to Seth Tilton-Fogg just an hour before 11:30 p.m. which was the last time his mother or anyone else saw him alive.

With no eyewitnesses to either the sale or the consumption of the drug, she put together the pieces of the puzzle using the digital technology, forensic evidence, and the human nature of the key people involved in the case.

During Wednesday's closing argument, she used that same technology in the form of a PowerPoint presentation aided by her narration of how the "pieces of the puzzle" came together to convince the jury of Watson's guilt, relying on the evidence as it was presented over the six days of trial.

"Melissa gave a great close," said Cormier.

When final arguments ended at noon, Judge James O'Neill gave a short break, read the jury their instructions and sent them into the jury room for lunch and then deliberations.

At 3 p.m., the jury asked to view one more time an interview of Watson while he was being interviewed by Buffington and Kidd-Keeler on May 8, 2015, in the small interview room at the Tilton Police station.

During that interview, Watson never admitted to selling the fentanyl to Tilton-Fogg, but he did say he warned him not to use to much because it was really powerful. Watson also never denied selling it to him, which is one of the things Guldbrandson emphasized to the jury.

Within a half hour of reviewing the video, the jury rendered their guilty verdict.

Guldbrandsen said she was ready to go forward at that moment with sentencing however Watson's attorney said he would need at least two weeks to prepare.

Watson could serve up to life in prison for his conviction of sales of drugs, death resulting. He was also convicted of separate count of sales of drugs.

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