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The finished product will be auctioned off July 20 as part of the Water Carnival Classic Car Show. SUBMITTED PHOTO

QWERTY Robotics team to auction off car couch

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Is it a car? A couch? Or a hybrid of the two?

The latest construction project undertaken by Detroit Lakes’ own QWERTY Robotics team is a “Car Couch” constructed from the recycled rear end of a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air.

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“The team actually made the trip out to a junk yard and sawed the rear end off a car,” said Debbie Janzen, who has served as the team’s advisor and mentor since 2009. “It’s made of real steel, not fiberglass.”

When Janzen first saw the sawed off remains of the vehicle, she admitted that her first thought was, “We paid $300 for THAT?!!!”

“It looked terrible,” she said. “But since then, the caterpillar has truly turned into a butterfly.”

The team is busy finishing up its “Car Couch,” with the intent to raffle off the unique piece of furniture on July 20 at the Classic Car Show being held at the Detroit Lakes City Park as part of the Northwest Water Carnival.

“We will be doing the drawing at the car show and announcing a winner,” Janzen said.

The public will get a chance to view the “Car Couch” first hand, and watch QWERTY Robotics members putting the final touches on this unique piece of furniture art, at a public viewing this Thursday, June 27 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The couch will be on display at Classics Auto on Highway 59, just south of Perkins, and raffle tickets will be available for sale at just $10 each.

Proceeds from the “Car Couch” raffle will help support QWERTY in its upcoming fifth season as a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competitive robotics team.

“We’re thinking of doing a second one this summer, and raffling that off too,” Janzen said.

Because robotics is not an official Detroit Lakes High School activity, the team relies on community and business donations for its day-to-day expenses, such as construction materials and electronics, as well as for funds to attend regional, national and international competitions.

The robots that the team uses in competition must be built from the ground up each year, Janzen explained.

“Each year there’s a whole new game and a whole new goal that we have to design, build and program our robot to do, and it’s never the same. You can’t just reuse your robot from last year and modify it.

“We’ve built a robot that shoots baskets, one that balanced on a teeter totter, one that had a little miniature bot that climbed a pole and turned on a light. We had one that hung onto a steel pyramid and suspended itself in the air.”

But the materials to build the robot are not the only expenses the team incurs each year.

 

“We also have our team uniforms, tools, electronics — so many things that need upgrading each year,” she added. “We typically need to raise between $15,000 and $20,000 per year.”

The actual amount raised determines how many competitions the team can attend each season, as well as what they can spend on new learning materials, tools, uniforms, etc.

This past season, the team received an invitation from the Western Canadian FIRST Robotics Regional competition, to compete at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta.

That competition took place in April, and the QWERTY team came home with an “Imagery Award.”

In presenting the team with the award, the judges said, “The Imagery Award celebrates attractiveness in engineering and outstanding visual aesthetic integration from the machine to the team appearance. Being creative and original makes not only this team look good, they make FIRST look good!

“The team showed the judges a level of professionalism that a startup company would be jealous of.  A black, gray, and green color scheme was applied in an integrated way on their robot, team clothing, and even the color of their nail polish. All of these attributes combined to make this a ‘KEY’ team for Imagery.”

The QWERTY Robotics Team’s 2013 robot was dubbed “The Hulk,” in honor of its coloring and structure, Janzen noted.

The team’s 2014 build season begins in January, when they will receive their instructions for the upcoming competition.

“We’ll have six weeks in which to complete the robot, and then we can’t touch it until we go to the competition.”

The team is hoping to make it to at least a couple of regional competitions this season, as well as to return to the national event in St. Louis, Mo., where QWERTY Robotics competed in both 2011-2012. And of course, they’d like to return to Canada as well.

“It’s a neat opportunity for the kids to see there’s more than just Detroit Lakes out there,” Janzen said of the team’s participation in regional, national and international events, where they found themselves competing with teams from Israel, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and many other countries.

“Many of them make friendships, and now they can keep in touch with them through social media,” she added. “When you’re on a FIRST robotics team there’s this feeling of camaraderie and family that’s really hard to explain.

“For the past couple of years, our team has had a booth at the Becker County Fair, and last year, there was a group that stopped at our booth who were very excited — they were part of a robotics team in Maryland.”

Ultimately, though, Janzen said that the competitions are just “the cherry on the icing.

“All along the way they are learning so many different skills that they are going to take with them into their future jobs and to college,” she added. “There are $14 million in scholarships available each year to kids who have been on FIRST Robotics teams.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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