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PR-B Robotics team wants your junk batteries

Though they have rarely done drives for donations in the past, Hunt said the team decided to revisit a fundraiser used during one of the group's first active years. They aren't asking for money, but instead junk batteries that the group can turn in for core fees. Donations must be limited to the type of batteries used to start and operate motors such as car batteries, lawnmower batteries and similar mechanical devices. PineandLakes.com Illustration

The Pine River-Backus High School robotics team, the Backwoods Engineers, is doing a fundraiser that could help locals get rid of junk batteries.

The Engineers operate each year on a limited budget. A sponsorship by the Pentair company in Minneapolis makes it possible for the group to enter the annual First Robotics events and covers the approximately $5,000 startup and kit costs; however, the group annually needs approximately $200 for additional parts and tools to construct their robot.

Compared to metro area teams with such sponsors as 3M and large engineering firms, the Backwoods Engineers are operating well below the $4,000 restriction the league uses to create a more level playing field.

"If we had more, we'd spend more and put extra sensors on it and have a backup computer for it," said Ryan Hunt, one of the team mentors/coaches. "It has a main controller and if we had a spare one of those we could have one being tested and one being used in the active robot. We could do a lot more that way."

Hunt said in spite of a small budget, PR-B's team has done well in past years, but early practice events and additional fundraising could help the Engineers do even better.

"This year we are ramping up on fundraisers and donation drives," Hunt said. "I'm excited how things will do. We pulled the team together to make it to a practice tournament in Roseville, and a couple weeks later we did a second practice tournament where we took third place."

Of course, the team has more costs than just parts. Events where they can hone their game and practice in a competitive environment all have expenses including travel, food and lodging. Though they have rarely done drives for donations in the past, Hunt said the team decided to revisit a fundraiser used during one of the group's first active years. They aren't asking for money, but instead junk batteries that the group can turn in for core fees.

"I would like a couple hundred dollars," Hunt said. "That would be a success. Anything more than that would also make everything better."

Donations must be limited to the type of batteries used to start and operate motors such as car batteries, lawnmower batteries and similar mechanical devices. Value for these batteries can vary by size and rarity from a couple dollars all the way up to $20.

To Hunt, robotics is more than just an extracurricular activity. It is a real-world learning opportunity and an activity without physical limitations.

"It's so real. From my experience in research and development and technology development, it's the most real-world experience I've ever seen in a high school," Hunt said. "As the founder of the league, Dean Kamen, the guy who invented the Segway, he's fond of saying it's the only sport where everyone can go pro."

In preparing for robotics events, the Engineers practice skills found in many professions. They learn and practice computer assisted drafting, machining, assembly and marketing skills since the group is responsible for finding sponsors and funding. Everything the students do applies to a real-world career, with real-world limitations.

"They only have six weeks to make the robot work and play a game they have never heard of and the world has never seen before," Hunt said.

Donation of batteries may be made at the PR-B High School or Hunt Technologies in Pine River. Other arrangements may be made by calling Hunt at 218-838-0458 or Jason Traut, team mentor/coach, at 218-587-8062.

"We're hoping by the end of the year to be able to turn in our batteries, before the new season starts," Hunt said. "We'll have extra funds then to help buy parts for the next robot."

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