Arts / COVID-19 / Robotics

This youth robotics team designed an isolation booth for COVID-19 testing

The team from Howard County's Hackground is looking to open source the delivery. It's one of several projects they're working on during the pandemic with easy-to-find materials.

The robotics team from Howard County's Hackground. (Screenshot via Google Meet)

When the call went out for protective equipment for healthcare workers, makers jumped in. The Howard County high school students that converge on Maple Lawn makerspace Hackground were among them.

After hearing from a doctor in the local community, students pooled resources to get access to eight 3D printers and made face shields for medical workers in the Baltimore area. They also designed an intubation box that allows multiple healthcare workers to gain protection while performing the procedure that’s required to place patients on a ventilator, and worked with a local endocrinologist to put it into action.

The students are typically members of the FIRST Robotics team, but they applied what they learned about designing and building to help people.

“We really attacked this project the way we attack any part of our robot,” said team member Ashok Kadagala. “These kind of skills don’t just apply to robotics clubs.”

At the same time, Maryland is already starting an initial reopening phase for everyone. So it’s become clear that living in an environment where COVID-19 is still a risk to spread will bring the need for new supplies that can be used in every day life. After all, a moment of change is a time when new products can enter the world.

So it’s led to a new phase, in turn: “We need to support the healthcare workers, but we need to look at the recovery part of it, too,” said Hackground Founding Director Prasad Karunakaran.

One project they’ve been working on is an isolation booth that can be placed outside a business or hospital. From inside, healthcare workers could complete COVID-19 tests. Or, it could be a place to pick up items curbside.

Like many who design new products, they made adjustments along the way. While they’ve been having meetings on Zoom while using Slack and Google Docs to check in, the FIRST Robotics team started in on the design after seeing a booth in use in South Korea, said teammate Connor Vu. But after seeing another example in India, they adjusted the design so that the healthcare worker is the one inside the booth. Then they arrived at an accordion door, and also talked about cleaning. Teammate Max McGervey said using self-tapping screws became important.

Here’s the design:

When we talked last month, they were working on their next design: a hand sanitizer with a foot pump.

With all of the products, the goal is to create new things to produce, but they also want to make those things available for anyone. The booth is mostly made of materials that can be sourced from Lowes or Home Depot.

“We’re not trying to sell or make a profit. We’re making a design that we can put out to open source platforms so other people can take them and get inspiration,” said team member Andrew Lai.

For Karunakaran, it’s also a way to keep the team of 30 students involved in the robotics league together, even when the league isn’t competing.

“We continue to look for ways we can support the community,” he said.

Series: Coronavirus

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