When the typical school year came to an unexpected halt two months ago, members of South Eugene High School’s Robotics team lost out on more than just time in the classroom — they lost the chance to finish final seasons with a group they had been part of for years.
But even though the team couldn’t meet, had to forego a competition they spent weeks preparing for, and some members have now technically graduated, members weren’t ready to be done with the year. Instead, they chose to put their design and programming skills to the test by creating face shields.
A face shield is a piece of personal protective equipment used to guard against droplets that could contain COVID-19. Members of the team who have their own personal 3D printers at home have been printing the visor piece of the shield, which is the piece that fits on a person’s head and attaches to the lens of the face shield.
As of this week, the team had made 469 face shields and 100 face masks, helping 10 organizations in the area including Oregon Medical Group.
High school robotics teams do exactly what you’d think — build and design robots.
They learn the mechanics and technology behind the robots, which teach students about programming and engineering. Teams also participate in an annual competition where they have six weeks to build a robot for a specific purpose.
One of South Eugene’s team mentors raised the idea after seeing other robotics teams step up across the country. But the team likes to say its work is only 10% about the actual robots — the main focus is on community outreach and using the skills learned in the club helping people in Eugene.
“A lot of us are feeling restless right now (feeling) that there’s more stuff we can be doing to help,” co-captain Sander Moffitt said. “Because sitting at home, however helpful it is, doesn’t tangibly feel helpful in the same way that helping someone rebuild their house would, and so printing the masks is a way to sort of get that feeling of tangible helpfulness.”
Moffitt is a senior and despite being on the team all four years of high school, she had never used a 3D printer before the pandemic. But when the project started, she borrowed a friend’s 3D printer and learned to use it.
Channeling her programming skills into this project has helped her stay connected with her team and cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
“Something that a lot of us are struggling with during this particular period of human disaster is that usually, when there is a natural disaster or an event that requires a lot of people to come together and help, people physically come together,” she said.
Sometimes this looks like sorting through food donations, or rebuilding homes, but COVID-19 is different.
“The most helpful thing we can do is stay in our houses and not see each other so I think that that sort of, at least for me, hit me in that human part,” Moffitt said. “I want to be connected, I want to be helping people,” Moffitt said.
About eight of the 50 members of the team are printing visors.
Each visor takes about an hour and a half to 3D print. After that, the students put them out on their porch for mentors to pick up, which are then assembled with shield lenses with the help of UO’s Machine Shop and Eugene Science Center, according to mentor Patrick Logan.
Junior Arvind Mahadevan has been on the team for three years and owns his own 3D printer, which he said now typically costs a couple hundred dollars.
So far, he’s been able to make about 100 masks on his own and has been using his skills from the team to improve the process.
“I have been modifying the designs on my own — it’s been really fun actually,” Mahadevan said. “I modify the designs, give them out and people test them and I get a little bit of feedback. Most of the design changes I’ve been making have been to improve the efficiency of my printer by making them a little bit easier to print.”
Mahadevan is part of the group that designs the robots the team builds for competition, along with a few other members.
“I’ve been working with computer modeling software for the past three years, so I thought it would be fun to mess with the models that they provide to us,” Mahadevan said.
Local businesses or organizations have been requesting their homemade PPE, so they ramped up production, he said.
Mahadevan said the team has supplied to dental and animal clinics, grocery stores and medical offices, who have sent in photos of themselves wearing the PPE in thanks.
“I really just didn’t see any downside to it, I just wanted to help out,” Mahadevan said. “I know I’m helping people out there and I know people are using these masks. So it’s good to know that.”