RoboCats making visible difference

By Teddy Rydquist

Leader Staff Writer

The Oxford High School robotics program, also known as the RoboCats and Team 2137, operate with a mantra, “We build more than robots.”

In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this mantra has more of a firsthand application that ever before.

Teaming with Romeo High School’s robotics program, the “Byting Bulldogs,” the RoboCats are utilizing their three-dimensional (3D) printing skills, helping to produce headbands to support safety shields for medical workers and first responders.

A strong example of a team effort, this partnership began when Ian Haden, a former mentor for the Oxford Middle School robotics program, shared the Bulldogs’ plans to help their medical community shortly after the school year was suspended in March.

“One of our mentors, Kate Lundy, saw what Romeo was doing, so she floated the question out there on our team communication site, Basecamp, to see if there was a way we could help them out,” faculty coordinator and club sponsor Craig Trombly explained.

“After that, Ian reached out to Romeo and set us up with them, then the kids on the team – and the adults – took this idea and ran with it.”

With the RoboCats producing the headbands and the Byting Bulldogs handling the shields themselves, the two schools combine their efforts to make a complete safety shield. Once completed, Dan Clark, an incoming mentor for OHS’ program, established a central drop-off location at the Oxford Police Station.

This tandem effort, however, has predictably required numerous trips back-and-forth along the roughly 15-mile stretch between Oxford and Romeo. This is where people like Lundy have been invaluable.

“Once the headbands are dropped off the Oxford Police Department pole barn, me and the other drivers go through them and bag them in groups of anywhere from 10-25,” Lundy shared.

“We do runs over to the Bruce Township Fire Department No. 2 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I’ll call in the amount of filament we need the day before the run, which is the plastic the students need to complete the headbands with the 3D printer.

“Romeo will leave the filament for us at the fire department and we’ll either deliver it to the students’ porch or they’ll come to the police department and pick it up. I have a group of ten Team 2137 parents who take turns and help with the deliveries, and I handle all the extra individual requests on top of that, too. It’s a team effort, that’s for sure.”

While manufacturing medical supplies is quite the contrast from a standard high school robotics season, several students have exemplified great initiative and asserted themselves as leaders during this unusual time.

“Conlan Houston is one of our co-captains for electrical, so he has been really busy with that,” Trombly said. “(Sophomore) Andrew Haselton is another one. Andrew has been our go-to guy with discord and providing everyone with a lot of troubleshooting information for difficulties with their printers and things like that. (Senior) Jason Grabowski, our mechanical captain, and (freshman) Wyatt Ashley have been helpful, too.

“The students have made numerous updates to the updates we’ve been printing. Just like anything, trying to improve the product each time you make it. So, if we found an issue where one of the designs didn’t fit a mask well underneath or didn’t work well for people with glasses, something like that, we can make the necessary modifications to make it better and we’ve been able to share that information with Romeo through the discord, too.”

A testament to the strength of the RoboCats’ program, young men and women from each grade level have been involved in the project, stretching from the current 2020 graduating class down to the 2023 freshmen.

“We’ve worked with Romeo on projects before,” said Haselton, who is also the team’s programming captain.

“I know in the past, before I was on the team, we used to use Romeo’s practice field before we had our own. I think knowing each other from working together before, and competing at some of the same events, definitely helped us in this project.”

Due to COVID-19, Oxford did not get the chance to compete in any sponsored events during the 2019-20 academic year. The team was in the process of loading up their trailers for their first competition on Friday, March 13 when the executive order came down from Governor Gretchen Whitmer, halting all school-related activities.

“This group of students put a tremendous amount of time and effort into their preparation, so it was unfortunate they did not get the opportunity to compete at all during the school year,” Trombly shared.

“But they (the students) found a way to take that energy and spirit and try to put it into doing good for the community and filling a need.”

As of April 28, the RoboCats had produced 3,905 headbands. By the time of this article’s publication, that number is in excess of 4,000, and continuing to grow daily.

If you would like to support the RoboCats and Byting Bulldogs’ efforts, a GoFundMe page has been established to help cover the cost of necessary materials.

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