By Cindy Zomar, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – When the schools closed, right at the height of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics season at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School, mentor Bill Carr waited a few days at home and then had a thought. A couple of the team’s 3D printers were on the fritz and needed some tender loving care, and with time on his hands, and downtime on those printers, perhaps he could rescue them and do some repairs. With the permission of Principal Mark Hollick, Carr put on his personal protective gear and made a run to the school. With some effort, he was able to get them running again.
“I attempted to use the Sherlock Holmes theory,” Carr noted. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth… I got them running, even though they need to be continually monitored.”
Assabet’s robotics program, Team AZTECHS 157, began in 1993 as an extracurricular activity. Through FIRST, the robot mission and design changes year to year and after the build season, teams can choose to compete regionally and even nationally against other high school teams.
Carr’s role as a mentor to the team has evolved over the 10 or so years that he has volunteered.
“My role is mainly leading the programming effort,” he explained. “However, for the last two years … former graduates of the robotics program … have taken the lion’s share of the mentoring while I have had the luxury to ‘mentor the mentors’ as well as to help out in electronics and mechanical as a result.”
After fixing the printers and without a robotics season, it was only a matter of time before Carr found a new use for the printers and his time.
“The Makers Workshop in Maynard, by Massachusetts Face Shields, a volunteer organization providing face shields for front line staff at hospitals, medical centers, and doctor’s offices… needed people to help with 3D printing and assembling face shields,” Carr said. “To date, I have printed over 1,000 of the headbands that attach to the shields.”
Carr has personally donated nearly 50 rolls of costly filament in his efforts. The face shields are subsequently assembled and have been distributed to the various area hospitals and first responders.
While AZTECHS team is only able to meet online right now, Carr hopes that they will be building robots together again soon. And the team members are missing it as well.
During one Zoom meeting, Carr recalled, the 3D printers were making the headgear in the background when one student commented, ”Aw, I miss the sound of the printers running.” Spoken like a true techie.
To donate to the face shield effort, go to gofundme.com, “3D Printed and Laser Cut Face Shields for COVID-19.” To donate to the Assabet robotics team, or to donate filament, contact Program Manager Marcus Fletcher at [email protected].
Assabet depends on both financial and material donations from local industry to support their efforts each year.