Area robotics teams support those on the pandemic’s front line

Greenbush-Middle River Robotics team member Thor Anderson models the face shield piece that his team made from a 3D printer (left). The GMR and Badger teams, along with other area teams, have created face shields and ear savers that attach to face masks in an effort to help protect those working in the medical field during the COVID-19 pandemic. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Using a 3-D printer, Badger Robotics team senior Kennedy Truscinski works from her home on “ear savers” for face masks that medical personnel wear. These ear savers relieve some pressure around the head and protect medical personnel’s ears from the mask’s elastic bands. (photo submitted by Val Truscinski)

LifeCare EMS personnel Mike Kirkeide and Mary Stauffenecker model the face shields area FIRST Robotics teams have made for those working in the medical field. (photo submitted by Mary Anderson)

Robotics teams throughout the world saw their seasons officially suspended on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Area teams, including local ones— Badger and Greenbush-Middle River (GMR)— are still putting their technology skills to work, but not to win matches and earn awards. Instead, these teams are helping to protect those on the front lines of this COVID-19 pandemic— medical personnel— by using their 3-D printers to make face shields and “ear saver” pieces for the masks that medical personnel wear.

Besides the Badger and GMR FIRST Robotics teams, the Warroad, Roseau, Thief River Falls, and Stephen-Argyle FIRST Robotics teams, the Lancaster School shop class, and the VEX Robotics team out of Hallock also have worked on this project.

After being contacted by Mark Bertilrud—Warroad Care Center Administrator— on March 31, the GMR team began to do some researching and prototyping for the face shields that same day, along with Jeremy Culleton, Head Coach of the Warroad Robotics team who also took on communicating with LifeCare Medical Center.

Finding out about a large need for face shields across the nation, Culleton said, “(Area teams are) just trying to see if we can get something rolling in Roseau County.”

As for team members participating in this project, locally, the GMR team has current team members Thor Anderson and senior Kyle Stauffenecker, and mentor John Langaas working on it. The team enlisted Langaas’ help on thanks to his knowledge of 3-D printing from his North Dakota State University courses and the fact he lived next door to the Anderson home in rural Greenbush— a site of one of the team’s two 3-D printers.

The GMR team purchased its second 3-D printer earlier this month. Once it had this new printer running, the team sent its first printer to Stauffenecker to allow him to assist with the project.

As for the Badger team, Badger Coach Val Truscinski and she and her daughter and senior team member Kennedy Truscinski began using the Badger 3-D printer to make face shields at their Greenbush home.

Val and Kennedy printed two face shields, but then switched to printing ear savers for face masks that medical personnel wear. Connected to the masks’ bands that go around people’s ears, these ear savers wrap across the back of people’s heads. Pulling these mask bands away from right behind their ears, these ear savers relieve some pressure around the head and protect medical personnel’s ears from the mask’s elastic bands. The GMR team also started printing these ear savers.

As for local distribution, Thor Anderson and Stauffenecker have delivered these face shields and ear savers on behalf of the Badger and GMR teams as they are created. This distribution lists includes: the ambulance services in Greenbush, Middle River, and Roseau, the LifeCare Greenbush Manor, and LifeCare facilities in Roseau. Mary Anderson reported that on April 13, the team delivered another 50 plus face shields to LifeCare in Roseau. On April 14, Stauffenecker took another 20 plus to LifeCare in Roseau, plus some to the Karlstad Group Home.

The teams will continue to make these products as they are needed and, for the Badger team, Coach Truscinski said, as long as it has the material to keep its printer going. Both team’s coaches see this project as a way to give back to and help communities during this pandemic that had their back before the pandemic suspended its competition season.

“The health care personnel are on the front line of this pandemic we are facing. They are putting themselves and their lives in danger each and every time they go to work,” Coach Truscinski said via email. “If we can help those people in any way that we have the means to, why wouldn’t we? The people of our local communities are constantly giving to our team so we can be successful in teaching our kids. It is our honor and we are proud to give back to these communities and facilities!”

To see the complete story, read the April 15 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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