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ROBOTICS TEAM MEMBERS Jesse Bergh (left) and Pat Link (right) work on building one section of the team's robot.

DL robotics team swings into action

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DL robotics team swings into action
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Looking for a glance into the future?

Try spending some time with the Detroit Lakes High School Robotics team, a.k.a, QWERTY Robotics.

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The 11 students and their adult mentors are literally gearing up for competition, only a few weeks away.

The team just finished and "bagged up" their main robot, which they built from scratch.

They'll be taking their creation to what is called a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition at the University of Minnesota, where their robot will compete against robots made by 125 other high school teams.

Lead mentor and BTD engineer, Nathan Hoff, says the robots will race against each other, while doing a task.

"They (the robots) will have to pick up inner tubes from the floor, place them on horizontal pegs on the wall, and then it will deploy a mini-bot (a miniature robot) out of the back, which will climb up a pole, and switch on a light. It's a race to the top."

Now, these techy-minded creators are wrapping up their project, deciding on sensors for the mini-bot, and doing some last minute plasma welding in preparation for go-time.

"The competition is not just a boring little robotic thing; it's in a huge arena with cheerleaders, music, and tons of energy," says team advisor and mentor, Debbie Janzen.

And along with this energy comes a lot of commitment.

The team had six weeks to decide how to turn their ideas into reality, so they've been meeting at least four days a week to work on it.

Once they got the parts kit, it took them a week to brainstorm and draft up a plan on how to design it, and another five weeks to build it.

"The kids really took off with their ideas; we were just there to make sure they didn't get too far off the wall," says Hoff.

Although the mentors joke that it helps to have smart kids, it is ultimately the teamwork that made this feat possible.

"I get a lot of joy out of working on something, then seeing it start working," says DL student Jeff Fish.

Fish is the first to admit, though, his strength is in computer programming; his teammates contribute to other aspects of the robot.

The students each bring their own talents to the table, adding their pieces to a puzzle, which could not be put together by one student alone.

"There is animation, designing, building, public relations, artistic pit designing, fundraising, web designing -- it's a collaborative effort, and the kids are really getting a lot of hands-on experience they just can't get in textbooks," says Janzen.

BTD maintenance worker and team mentor Bernie Meyer says students and adults alike are getting a crash course in robotics as they go.

"It is impossible for everyone to know everything about building a robot. It takes a team," says Meyer.

This team is only two years old, though, and relatively small compared to many teams they'll be up against.

Regardless, their sights are set high, as the top three teams (from this particular competition) advance to nationals in Missouri.

From there, the top robotics team gets a trip to the White House to demonstrate to the president the geniuses they really are.

"Oh, that'd be so awesome to get to the White House!" one team member said.

What the mentors think is awesome is the fact that these kids are able to take all this real-world experience to college, where simply being a part of this team can get them scholarships.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota computer programmer and parent volunteer, Randall Fish, says it's not only a benefit to the kids, but to local employers in the area.

"I see this as part of the future. Robotics is the next step for computer programming, and I see these kids growing exponentially," says Fish.

Team mentors also ensure the students grow together socially throughout the year, as they hold several "fun" functions like camping over the summer.

"It helps them work together as a team," says Janzen.

"I've never seen such peer respect among the students. Everybody's input is valued and each person's opinion is important," she adds.

Also important are the local and national sponsors who made this spendy project possible for the DL students.

BTD Manufacturing Inc., JCPenney, SJ Electro Systems Inc., and NASA all kicked in to exceed the $10,000 it takes to build the robot and enter it into the competition.

The team plans on using the leftover money to buy some much-needed tools as they continue to "build" their team for future years.

In the meantime, a recruiting tool is what they're really hoping for.

"We get parents and community members volunteering their talents, and the kids are incredible," says Janzen.

"We hope to get more for next year."

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