Good Counsel senior working to test and build life-saving robots
May 16, 2017
Like many kids, Thomas Evers loved constructing Lego sets. But when he was in the sixth grade, his parents – Tom and Elizabeth Evers – took him to the National Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He saw displays of Lego-based robots built to accomplish tasks, and that changed his life.
Soon afterward, he and friends at St. Elizabeth School in Rockville, with the support of their parents, formed a robotics team and began participating in the First Lego League program, which challenges youth to think like scientists and engineers and develop solutions to real-world problems.
Six years later, Evers is a member of the class of 2017 at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, and this fall, he will attend Drexel University in Philadelphia and study mechanical engineering.
But an article in the upcoming June issue of the school’s Counselor magazine notes that Evers “is not your typical high school student. In nearly all of his spare time, Evers works to design and test robots to save innocent civilians by disabling land minds and unexploded cluster bombs, save our troops by locating and disarming IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and save emergency disaster victims using inexpensive robots to locate survivors.”
For his Eagle Scout project, Evers designed and built a test course at the Robot Test Facility of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to, in his words, “evaluate the capability of robots to detect landmines and or unexploded ordnance. These standards will be published and used globally to qualify landmine detection robots all over the world.”
The 2008 Academy Award-winning movie, The Hurt Locker, dramatized the danger that soldiers serving in explosive ordnance disposal teams faced in the Iraq war as they detected and dismantled IEDs.
For Evers, the issue became even more personal as he saw media accounts of the impact that landmines and cluster bombs have on people around the world, including a front page photo in the New York Times of a stack of prosthetics used by children victimized by the explosive devices.
“I thought, ‘What can I do to make that situation better?’ That’s partly where my Eagle project comes in,” he told the Catholic Standard in an interview.
Evers said his concern was shaped by the values he learned in Catholic school. “Through my entire Catholic education here at Good Counsel and at St. Elizabeth, (there was) always a mentality to care for your fellow humans, and be compassionate for others,” he said.
His resumé summarizes the state-of-the-art technology and engineering work that Evers is involved in, where as a part-time intern at NIST’s Robot Test Facility, he is “working on rapid manufactured search and rescue robots, flying robots and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) robots.”
He also has a part-time job as a technical assistant with Roboteam, an Israeli Robotics Company, where he works to repair damaged robots used by the military to disarm IEDs, and tests new robots to ensure they are performing to standards. At that firm, he also designs and 3D prints prototype robot parts.
As a middle schooler, he and other members of the robotics team saw demonstrations of how robots could have real-world applications, like detecting when hands are not on a car’s steering wheel, which can happen when teens and adults text while they are driving.
When he and the team members were eighth graders at St. Elizabeth School, they built a humanoid robot around 18 inches tall that could do a headstand, push-ups, karate and soccer moves, and dance.
“That started to open doors for us,” he said.
Evers took the robot with him and set it on the table when he went to Our Lady of Good Counsel to interview for participating in the school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program. One of the reasons why he chose to attend Good Counsel was because of its STEM program, he said.
“I really wanted to do mechanical engineering,” he said, noting that in his freshman year in the program, he worked on computer design and used a 3D printer to build things, and for his final project that year, he designed a model train.
During his sophomore year in the program, they learned about bridges and built a model bridge out of balsa wood, designed to be lightweight but strong, that was tested by a stress analyzer. As a junior, he and fellow STEM students there studied aerospace engineering, designed airplane wings and made and tested rockets.
“Another great thing about Good Counsel’s STEM program is we don’t just talk about material, we get to test it,” he said.
Meanwhile, he and members of his robotics team continued to advance in their designs, programming and construction of robots, and at one exhibition in downtown Washington, they displayed the robot they built that danced to the 2012 song, “Gangnam Style.”
Officials from NIST asked the robotics team members if they would like to be part of a new international robotics competition called RoboCup. They were encouraged to tackle a real-world problem. Many of the robots used to detect and disarm explosive devices were very expensive, and the robotics team began designing and building small, disposable and lower cost robots with 3D printers that could be used to fulfill tasks.
At a 2015 robotics competition in Pomona, California, he and team members built and demonstrated search and rescue robots. That same summer, the robotics team members participated in the RoboCup competition in Hefei, China, presenting disposable 3D printed robots that they had designed and built.
One year later, the team tied for first place in a RoboCup competition in Leipzig, Germany, with robots in a search and rescue competition that they designed, 3D printed, built and programmed.
“That robot can go over rugged terrain” like sand, gravel and inclines, he said.
The goal is to continue to develop and refine robots to dismantle, set off or remove land mines, cluster bombs or IEDS, so people don’t have to be in such dangerous positions. And in the case of a collapsed building, instead of sending people in, robots can go in and search for signs of survivors.
Now as an intern at NIST, he is testing robots, and as a technical assistant with Roboteam, he is building robots.
Discussing the real-world applications of his work, Evers said, “The robots I build and work on at Roboteam are used by the Boston Fire Department as well as many other SWAT (teams) and local law enforcement organizations, as well as the U.S. military, to help remove IEDs and to provide reconnaissance.”
Evers expressed gratitude for what he had learned from Bill Jones, the STEM program coordinator and teacher at Good Counsel. Jones praised his student’s efforts and accomplishments, saying, “Thomas has always been driven by his interest and passion for engineering design and specifically robotic application… He will truly be missed, and I have every confidence that he will excel in his future endeavors – to our benefit.”
As he prepares to graduate from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School and continue his studies at Drexel University, Evers also said he appreciated “the knowledge, classes, the friendships made and the values learned” at the Olney school.
One thing that drew him to Drexel, he said, is that it has a full machine shop. “I see it as a perfect extension of Good Counsel,” he said, adding that his high school “prepared me for the types of engineering in the real world.”
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