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Robotics team gearing up for second, larger competition

The QWERTY Robotics team in Detroit Lakes is back building for a second competition -- it's much larger and they've learned a bit more about priorities this time around.

Their first competition was a part of the North Dakota State University BEST competition, where they came in second to last in performance but took first in design. This time, they said, looks will be last on their list of things to worry about.

In April, the group will compete in the University of Minnesota FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Challenge. They have had six weeks to design and build the robot, which can be up to 120 pounds and five feet high -- quite a difference from the small dump truck they made at the first competition.

This robot will have to "go over obstacles, like a speed bump, kick a soccer ball into a goal and lift itself," team member Jacob Conway said.

Also different for the students on this project is that during the competition, the Detroit Lakes robot will be competing with two other teams' robots. It will be three teams versus three teams, sort of like a game of soccer, mentor Trescha Mitchell explained.

"We'll have to be versatile" because of working with other teams' robots, Conway said.

"That's going to be tough -- we don't know what they've focused on," team member Nick Roethel said. If they concentrated on visual, like we did on the first one, we'll lose."

Each week the group of seven students and six rotating mentors has a schedule of what needs to be done each week to be finished with the robot on time. So far, they're sticking to it.

The group agreed they are a bit more motivated this time since they were nearly last place at the first competition, but with the experience under their belts, they also know a little more what to plan for this time around.

"We're mainly figuring it out on our own this time," team member Jeff Fish said.

They've broken into three groups to concentrate on different portions of the robot, and they are organizing better. They are also on Facebook and there's a link from the Detroit Lakes High School page to get their name out.

Like their first competition, the FIRST one April 1-3 has a different challenge from year to year. If they win, the group can continue on to the National FIRST challenge in Atlanta, April 15-17.

Pentair Foundation and BTD are sponsors of the robotics project, but the group is always looking for more. They still have to raise enough money for the trip to the Cities for competition.

One of the things they are doing to raise money, and to show their unity, is sell T-shirts with their team name (QWERTY Robotics) and the quote, "Once you decide that winning isn't everything, you become a winner" on them.

After the University of Minnesota competition, the students will start working on their second NDSU competition again.

"The more competitions we go to, the more prepared we'll be," Fish said.