NOVI, Mich. - "Right here, this is the headband part and it's actually pretty easy," said Wenbo Xu.
Xu is holding a stiff plastic green band, rotating it on a zoom call. And he's right, it is pretty easy - if you're just snapping the pieces of a face shield together.
But that's only the final step on a complex and intersecting project undertaken by the robotics team at Novi High School. Xu and his teammates aren't just spending their pandemic summer putting the final touches on thousands of face shields - they're constructing personal protective equipment completely on their own.
Frog Force, the name for Oakland County high schools' robotics team has had brushes with fame in the past, making it to world championships and giving back to their community.
The 120-member team was two weeks into this year's challenge when COVID-19 disrupted the tournament, sending everyone home. But where one challenge ends, another one begins. And the challenge Frog Force took on diverted from real-world simulated problems to real-world actual problems: a gaping hole in PPE.
"I thought it was a really good challenge because if you think about it, us students - we're learning how to operate these machines (right here behind me) and a the same time, it's a really fun interesting experience and then also you're helping out the community at the same time," said Xu.
Armed with 3-D printers and programs of code just waiting to be deployed, the students got to work.
Under the watchful eye of their lead mentor Anu Udupa, Frog Force embarked upon a mission to deliver face shields to the first responders and health care workers who needed them most.
"(We have built) two-thousand three hundred face shields which have gone to different hospitals Henry Ford, Beaumont, the Novi police," said Udupa.
And their team's altruism didn't go unnoticed. When the school's superintendent saw what they were making with the printers, administrators asked the robotics team to make a face shield for every teacher and staff member in the district.
"Through the experiences with my robotics team, I thought it was really rewarding and fun to work with the group," said Xu.
Donations and 10 3-D printers loaned out for their use, the students were able to build the shields at home while collaborating online.
Working together, they hope to have made a thousand face shields by the end of the week.
"It's very nice when I go through the chat and I see them all discussing," Udupa said. "'Okay, I had this problem, how do I solve this?' and all those things. The comradery nice to see and it makes me feel proud."
"(It's) a win-win for everybody and you get a really warm feeling in your heart knowing it will go to a good cause," said Xu.