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RaileRobotoics Team 935, the Newton High School First Robotics team, raced through its build season, designing a robot and building it from the ground up to compete in the 2020 game.


And then, within a week of the first competition, the season was canceled. Instead of adjusting strategy and making alliances, the team was at home. Literally. School buildings were closed to fight COVID-19.


And as that was going on, team leadership picked up a new mission. A new race to complete, as it were.


After talking with Jon Jantz, of Cottonwood Pediatrics, whose daughter Elise is on the team, three members of RaileRobotics went to their computers and started designing a medical mask they could produce on the teams’s 3D printers.


“We took a design from a dental clinic from Montana,” said team captain Jakob Graber. “We have refined it, It has been things like making it easier to clean, and changing the filter holders so things don’t just wedge in there, but it snaps in.”


Graber said using and modifying an existing design is not without challenges — like finding ways to convert the original computer files to something the team computers and printers could use, and making design changes, as well.


“Megan [Watkins] and I like 3D modeling, and this is time we can keep doing it,” Graber said.


And, Graber said, the team is responding to a community need. Jantz spoke with team leadership about days when the clinic he operates is short on masks — everyone with symptoms must be masked when they come in.


“We have had donations so we are doing OK,” said Jantz. “Everyone is a little nervous about where this is going.”


Jantz said Newton Medical Center has asked about full face shields, and that the Robotics team will be looking at producing those, as well.


For RaileRobotics, cranking up the two 3D printers they have seemed natural.


“That, and that our printers are not doing anything. Our season got canceled, so why not,” Graber said.


The team has produced about 15 masks so far, adjusting the size and scale to have masks that fit different people. Graber called the production “slow,” but they have a plan.


The school owns three other 3D printers — one that cannot be moved from its current location and is designed for big projects. The other two of that stock have been moved into the robotics lab, and will be online soon.


“We need some extra software on the robotics computers to work with those. The tech guys have been so swamped getting computers ready for online school,” Graber said.


Now that the design work is done, the time commitment is not quite as great — team members only have to spend an hour or two on the project at a time. That’s important, because while school buildings are closed to classes and groups, school continues in online form.


Team coaches monitor the printers and change things out when masks are complete.


“If we run out of standard masks, it is a backup,” Jantz said. “Other groups are doing cloth masks, as well.”


Graber said the team has a “stockpile” of medium used for 3D printing, and the team will be using that to produce as many masks as possible.


“Hopefully this will help,” Graber said.