Bryan Culver ‘17 came to Kettering University in search of an interactive engineering experience similar to his high school career in FIRST Robotics (FRC) and Vex Robotics (VRC).
Near the end of his first co-op experience in the durability department at Chrysler Fiat in Auburn Hills, he was contacted by John V-Neun, Vice President of Product Development for VEX Robotics, through chiefdelphi.com, a FRC web forum.
“VEX unexpectedly contacted me about a job,” Culver said. “Many industry professionals frequent that web forum and over my four years in High School I developed a reputation as a professional, thoughtful member of that community. VEX’s impromptu offer to come work for them designing competitive robotics parts was right in my wheelhouse.”
In search of a different experience, Culver, a member of The Killer Bees (Team 33) for both FRC and VRC at Notre Dame Prep in Pontiac, Michigan, transferred his co-op placement to Greenville, Texa,s to work on product development for all three of VEX’s product lines.
A Strong Foundation in Robotics
Culver is a current Kettering student double-majoring in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. Although his formal education in engineering began in Flint, his knowledge and experiences with the field began in 2009 when he joined The Killer Bees.
“FRC pushed me into engineering,” Culver said. “I have always enjoyed solving difficult problems, but that can be found in many walks of life. Coming from a sports background, competing in FRC really allowed me to throw myself into robotics like I had in the past in sports.”
While in middle school, Culver learned basic speed torque, motor power calculations in FIRST Lego League. As a freshman in high school, he was exposed to the engineering design process and learned how to use lathes, mills, bandsaws, sanders, grinders and how to best utilize common fastners. The following year he learned Autodesk Inventor, became more familiar with the material properties of the common stock used in FRC (6063 aluminum, 7075 aluminum, polycarbonate, Delrin, etc.) and developed engineering practices required to design parts on a water jet machine. As a junior in high school, Culver was promoted to the pit crew lead on The Killer Bees, meaning he was in charge of fixing the robot in between matches. Finally, as a senior, Culver continued to perfect his skills associated with robotics and became a mentor himself to the younger students in the program.
“I’ve learned a lot through my times in FRC and VRC and I still use that,” Culver said. “One of the most valuable skills I learned is engineering intuition – knowing when things will yield or break without doing the math. The courses I’ve taken at Kettering have solidified this mathematically, but it all started in high school.”
Culver still serves as a mentor for The Killer Bees as he assists them on weekends during his school term. The team has excelled, winning ten regular season and offseason events since he graduated and is regularly regarded as one of the top 25 teams in the world.
At VEX, Culver enjoys the ability to take a product from an idea all the way through to completion. He has seen many products through this process despite being an intern.
“You have a lot of creative control,” Culver said. “Although VEX is quickly becoming larger it has done a good job of holding onto its roots as a small company. My boss, John V-Neun, is also a mentor and friend to me. It’s a very positive environment.”
In addition to designing products, Culver has traveled cross country to Maker Fairs, educational conferences and the Vex World Championships to continue to promote the competition worldwide. He also serves as a member of the game design committee for Vex EDR (the high school and college competition) and Vex IQ (the elementary and middle school competition.)
“Game design is an extremely challenging and rewarding process," he said. "Robotics lit a fire inside of me in high school. It’s a pleasure to create the games that will ignite that same spark inside thousands of students across the world.”
Culver finds the autonomy and variety of experiences in and relating to engineering an amazing co-op experience. The diversity and breadth of his work at Vex in conjunction with his passion and experience for robotics combines to create an ideal co-op opportunity.
“It’s a fun job,” Culver said. “I enjoy solving problems and VEX has allowed me some amazing opportunities to do just that.”