Plymouth, N.H. –By day, he’s an information technology specialist at Plymouth State, but Chris Drever has another job that’s bringing him and his team of Gilford High School robotics aficionados some well-deserved credit. Drever, a PSU employee since 2006, works in conjunction with his wife Jackie and lead mentor Mike Andrews in leading the 22 student team, the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Team 1831 Screaming Eagles. The team won the FIRST BAE Systems Granite State Regional, held at Verizon Arena in Manchester, in early March, competing with 50 other teams from Canada, Mexico, California and the northeastern U.S.
Drever says the students had to design and build a competition robot in a process mirroring a ‘real-world’ business environment.
“We only had six weeks to design, build, program and testit, after determining what it needed to do in the competition,” Drever said. “It’s like working in the real world; there’s not enough time or money and someone trying to beat you to the punch. This is a great experience for the team.”
The team is now preparing for the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis, Mo., in April, where they will compete with 300 teams.
“Winning the regional took a strong robot and a strong team, but now we’re going up against the best of the best, but I’m optimistic,” Drever noted.
The competition includes robots shooting basketballs through hoops and balancing on a rolling platform. Drever added the robots’ technical capabilities have advanced significantly from when the FIRST competitions started.
“The sophistication has gone up greatly –when we first started we were using a simple low end computer, we’ve stepped it up to using a computer that is similar to what you would find on a robotics driven manufacturing facility or aerospace manufacturing,” said Drever.
The FIRST competition is unusual in that robotics teams must cooperate and work cohesively with each other in order to advance, rather than viewing the competition as an enemy.
“Working with the competition is a crucial element in winning a match, it’s all part of the spirit of gracious professionalism, that’s the spirit of FIRST,” Drever said. “You can see it all the time – last year’s winners got a length of chain they needed from the opponents to fix their robot–and they ended up winning.”
The 48 year-old Drever, a graduate of Gilford’s school system, says his computer skills are largely self-taught, he noted the team members have to learn how to repair every system on the robot; skills he believes are crucial to tomorrow’s high-tech workforce.
“ I have worked in the information technology field for more than 25 years and have seen many changes; I see robotics as the next logical step in the evolution of technology.”
“Information technology has the highest rate of learning of any profession–you must stay on top of it because everything is constantly changing, so that has helped me stay abreast of the changes in technology and robotics, and I can pass this knowledge along to my team,” he said.
The robotics team is also looking toward the future, with an emphasis on getting elementary school children interested in technology.
“For the past five years, students from our team have come to PSU during the summer to help with the LEGO engineering day camps, so the children are benefiting from our expertise and it’s a great educational outreach,” Drever said. “We bring the competition robot up here and show the students–it helps spark the younger minds in science, technology engineering, and math.”
FIRST was founded in 1989 by famed New Hampshire inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. Based in Manchester, N.H., the organization designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.
For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU News Services Mgr., or call (603) 535-2775.