By Roger Amsden
FOR THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
Connor Craigie, Brad Parker and Ayden Carpenter of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team and the robot they are working on which will take part in competitions next month. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Members of the Gilford High School FIRST Robotics Team are putting in a lot of hours these days building a robot which will compete for glory next month by attempting to breach the defenses and scale the walls of a miniature castle.
Jackie Drever, one of the team's mentors, said the students, 22 of them in all, spend four to five hours a day and as many as eight to 10 hours on Saturdays working on the project, which is as much time as they spend in all of their other courses combined.
"It takes a lot of effort and a lot of dedication on their part," says Drever, who points out that the benefits of the intense involvement are shown by the fact that in the last 10 years of the FIRST program in Gilford, students who took part in the program have been awarded over $500,000 in college scholarships.
The team is one of 3,000 from around the world with an estimated 78,000 students involved in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology competition, which was launched in 1989 by New Hampshire inventor and technological innovator Dean Kamen, with an eye to inspiring students to explore science and technology as future careers.
The competition sees teams involved in a six-week project in which they build a robot from a kit which is provided for them and requires them to use their math, science, technology and engineering skills to design and program the robot to perform certain tasks which are required as part of the competitions.
This year's challenge, FIRST Stronghold, is played by two alliances of three teams each. Alliances compete against each other to breach their opponents' defenses, known as outer works, and capture their tower. They score points by crossing elements of their opponents' outer works, hurling basketball size inflatable balls into their opponents' tower goals, and surrounding and scaling their opponents' tower itself.
The team has $6,000 in support from the Gilford school system but also is allowed to raise as much as $4,000 from sponsors and local fundraisers in order to purchase other items needed for the project. New Hampshire Ball Bearings is their major sponsor and they also receive assistance from Meredith Village Savings Bank. Meals for the team are provided by places like Taco Bell, T-Bones and Fratello's and parents of the students provide Saturday meals.
Drever says that other mentors include her husband, Chris, who is director of infrastructure at Plymouth State University; Mike Andrews, a mechanical engineer at New Hampshire Ball Bearings; Scott Plessner, a software engineer, and Steve White, who works at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Merrimack, who helps the students with building the robot.
Connor Craigie, a junior who has worked with a computer-assisted design program to help design the robot, says that he utilizes knowledge he has acquired from high level math and science classes in the building project.
He said the code which will enable the team to control the robot is based on Eclipse software but hasn't been fully uploaded yet. By next week he expects that the team will be able to start testing out their fully functioning robot and then work to fine tune it.
Craigie says that he wants to become an aerospace engineer and that the project is providing the hands-on kind of experience that he and other team members will need in their future careers.
Cameron Fraser, a junior, said he has always been interested in building and design, starting with Legos as a child, and that he is looking forward to a career as an architect or engineer.
Ayden Carpenter, a senior, is in his fourth year of involvement with the FIRST program and will be handling the controller for the robot,
He said he has seen the team grow better each year and advance further in the competitions.
"I grew up with mechanical toys and I always loved building things," said Carpenter, who wants to become a mechanical engineer.
He says that his experience with the FIRST team has helped him in physics and calculus classes in high school and that the one of the major benefits of the program is working with others as a team to solve problems.
The first district will be held at Windham High School March 4 through 6. The second district event is March 24 through 26 at the University of New Hampshire, followed by a regional championship from April 13 to 16 in Hartford, Connecticut. The world championship will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, from April 27 to 30.
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