Newsletter: Triple Helix 1st overall pick & semifinalists in Portsmouth!

Triple Helix students, mentors, and parents came together as a team for a very long– and very fun– weekend that included ranking 6th at the conclusion of qualification rounds and making a strong run into the semifinals as the first pick of #1 alliance captain FRC 190.

At this event we debuted our brand-new Level 2 climb capability, which we employed in each of our elimination matches.  We also found that the robot improvements we made since the Haymarket competition resulted in a more robust climb to the 3rd level of the Habitat, and we continued to make the most of our development time between matches at the event to improve our robot even further.  Our scouting, strategy, and awards presentation teams also did wonderfully, learning from their experience at our previous event to step up their game and deliver an even better product.

Yesterday evening I was reflecting on what happened over the last few days, and I was thinking of this quote from Apollo 16 astronaut Ken Mattingly as quoted in the film For All Mankind:  “We all are in this together as a team effort. We’re going to make it work. And I don’t know how to make it [all] work– I don’t know how to do most of this mission. But I do know, and I can assure you, that my piece of it is going to work. And it won’t fail because of me.”  This weekend, every Triple Helix team member can definitely say this and be extremely proud of their work.

We were also recognized by the judges with the Creativity Award, which is a technical award that celebrates creativity in design, use of component, or strategy of play.  This award is considered part of the set of engineering awards that also features Industrial Design, Quality, Innovation in Control, and Excellence in Engineering.  Triple Helix has won each of those awards in the past, but never Creativity, so this completes the set!  We are now among a VERY small community of teams who have earned all of the engineering awards at some point in their history.  As a team that sees the engineering challenge of FRC as an effective tool for making a difference with our students, we are very happy to receive this award.

At the end of the event, we assisted with teardown of the playing field and earned a (slightly used) carpet in exchange for our help.  Over the summer this carpet will be installed into the Peninsula STEM Gym, replacing the existing carpet which was originally sourced from the 2013 Virginia Regional.

Thanks to FIRST Chesapeake, the host team FRC 3359, Menchville HS, and all our wonderful sponsors for making this weekend’s experience possible!  We are now setting our sights on the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship in early April.


Newsletter: Triple Helix– double medals in Haymarket!

Triple Helix returned victorious last night, having won the FIRST Chesapeake District – Haymarket VA event along with partners 612 and 1731!  After ranking 5th after qualification rounds, we entered eliminations prepared to face a tough battle against great opponents.  Our robot Genome Lambda is technically ambitious, making use of several electromechanical & controls techniques right there on the cutting edge, and we discovered several areas of improvement via an iterative break & repair cycle completed many times over the course of the 2-day event.  We took every eliminations round to 3 matches, finally besting the 2nd-ranked alliance with TWO one-point wins in the final matches, for the hard-fought event win.  It all couldn’t possibly have been more dramatic!

We were also awarded the Engineering Inspiration Award, FIRST’s 2nd-highest honor.  A Texas team that we look up to said recently that they consider EI the “most important award in FRC as it shows you are working in your community to spread STEM in effective ways.”  Here’s what the judges had to say about us:

The Engineering Inspiration Award celebrates outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s community. Inspiring others to respect science and technology requires passion, knowledge, and commitment. FIRST celebrates these qualities by presenting its Engineering Inspiration Award. This team embraces the FIRST principle of creating an inclusive space for all. To democratize STEAM, they have turned to YouTube, opened a makerspace, and encouraged all ages to join their team. This team has brains, drive, and passion… which makes them a triple threat. Qualifying to compete for the Engineering Inspiration Award at District Championship, Team 2363!

With this win and award, the team has clinched our berth at the District Championship at GMU in early April.  We’re also probably about 60% of the way to punching our ticket to the FIRST Championship in Detroit in late April.

The team is now preparing for our next event, March 16-17 at Churchland HS in Portsmouth.  We invite everyone to come visit the event to cheer us on!


Destination Deep Space Spectator’s Guide

One of the topics which has come up repeatedly in 2363’s after-competition lessons learned meetings is how confusing it is for non-FIRSTers to attend FRC events. Triple Helix has produced a simple tri-fold brochure that can be handed to your non-FIRSTer visitors, team parents, grandparents, sponsors, etc. It doesn’t answer every question they will have. But, hopefully you will get fewer “I had no idea what was happening” comments from your visitors.

One side has general info that’s common to all FRC events. The other side has game specific info. Feel free to print these up, hand them out, and make FRC events more enjoyable for your guests.

Spectator’s Guide

Chief Delphi discussion

Newsletter: Triple Helix Robotics – build season update

It’s crunch time!  Triple Helix is taking a breath to give our fans a brief update about our status as we test and refine our robot for the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition game: Destination Deep Space.

Our Chairman’s Award submission is in
The Chairman’s Award is the most prestigious award in FIRST, and it honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate. The award recognizes teams who make a significant, measurable impact for their participants and community over a sustained period.  Our essay can be found here.

Peninsula STEM Gym ready to host practices & scrimmages
Because of the incredible efforts of a few volunteers (special thanks to Eric Leatherbury and Russell Moore!), the FRC playing field at our STEM Gym is now equipped to host realistic practice sessions for Hampton Roads teams.  The field has a full-size Habitat, Rocket, Cargo Ship, and human player Feeder Station in place and ready to use.  Triple Helix expects to make great use of the space between each of our upcoming competitions!  Contact us for more information about how your team can use the gym, too.

Let us serve you at the Junior Woman’s Club of Hilton Village Dinner Theater
Triple Helix students will serve dinner at the JWCHV’s 52nd production of the Gaslight Dinner Theatre the evening of Friday, March 8.  See attached flyer for more information about the play!

Thank you to our strategic partner NASA Langley
To be competitive in the FIRST Robotics Competition is a significant undertaking that requires sustained sponsorship from multiple large funding sources, as well as sustained involvement of volunteer mentors. More than a dozen engineers, designers, software developers, and other technical professionals engage with Triple Helix students in hundreds of contact hours each year. Students team up with these mentors to solve challenging competitive long-term technical projects with real requirements and constraints, ultimately winning recognition, gaining self-confidence, developing people and life skills, making new friends, and discovering an unforeseen career path and a lifetime love of STEM.  We wish to share our deep appreciation of our friends at NASA Langley who supported our team’s mission though funding, partnership in outreach, and effective mentoring.

See you at the competitions!
Triple Helix aims to compete at up to four FIRST Robotics Competition events this spring, including three here in Virginia. Hope to see you there!

In addition, you’re welcome drop by any of our team meetings– we’d love to show you what our awesome students have built!  See our team meeting calendar for more information.

Nate Laverdure
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics
President, Intentional Innovation Foundation

Chairman’s Award submission 2019

Triple Helix is proud to publish this essay as part of our submission for the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition Chairman’s Award.

Triple Helix has been a leader of the Hampton Roads (HR) community since 2008. Since then we’ve worked tirelessly to spread the values of FIRST and to increase interest in STEM in our region. During the past five years, we’ve forged new connections between our FIRST team and the VA Peninsula at over 90 community and sponsor-hosted events, encouraging others to join the FIRST community.

Rumble in the Roads, the annual off-season competition we operate with partner teams 5957 and 1610, is our largest STEM outreach event. Since 2014, we’ve attracted an average of 30 teams from VA, NC, and MD and 300 visitors, including students, parents, mentors, and government figures such as the school’s superintendent and the Vice Mayor of Newport News. This event is an opportunity for teams to practice and train new students before the start of the next build season. In 2018 we supported rookie teams 7429, 7675, and 7715, helping them prepare for the following FRC season by waiving their Rumble competition fees and partnering them with veterans who shared their experience and resources like their drive teams, pit crews, and drivetrains.

In 2018, Triple Helix established the Peninsula STEM Gym, which is a shared space that provides a plethora of options for local FIRST teams to explore. Attached to a community woodworking makerspace, the STEM Gym serves as a workshop, practice field, and collaboration space for all levels of FIRST teams. We have a full-size FRC and FTC playing field available for teams to effectively prepare for competitions. Plans are evolving to further expand the use of the space for local FIRST teams.

Our team has maintained a YouTube channel since 2013, where we post tutorials, build season logs, and videos of matches from competitions we attend. These videos are used by FRC teams for drive team development. This past year the team has taken on the task of building an archive of mechanical video tutorials, such as how to build bumpers or a drivetrain, as a way to assist young teams and curious minds alike. We post videos of tested engineering and team practices for the FRC community and provide a long-term visual history of our team. For example, our 2018 Gripper Prototype video gained over 47,000 views and influenced a number of teams’ intakes, such as team 5472, who thanked us for posting it as well as our “contributions to the FIRST community.”

Our sponsors are a part of our identity, and they have a huge impact on how we perform at competitions and in the community. For example, we interacted with over 1,200 visitors when we displayed our robot alongside sponsors DoD STEM and SPAWAR at the 2016 Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show in VA Beach. At NASA Langley’s invitation, we demonstrated our robot at their Exploration Days event at Busch Gardens Williamsburg for over 20,000 park visitors from around the world during each day of the event. We’ve exhibited at NASA’s Youth Day where we were a key part of the experience for NASA employees and their children. In 2016, we partnered with sponsor Jefferson Lab to host the HR FRC Kickoff; they later commissioned our team to 3D print parts for the GlueX Experiment. In 2017, manufacturing firm Continental Corp. invited us to tour their facilities and show our robot to their staff. We show our gratitude for our local sponsor, the Junior Woman’s Club of Hilton Village, by annually supporting their dinner theater event as wait staff. Club members stated “Your students did a wonderful job waiting tables for us at Dinner Theatre!” In July of 2017, NASA and Boeing invited us to the NASA Langley Centennial Gala; student leaders mingled with industry officials, made professional connections, and participated in a milestone event. Later that summer, we gave a presentation about our team’s strategies and structure to AFCEA’s HR chapter at Langley AFB.

Our team regularly works with organizations, businesses, and schools to incorporate FIRST into our region. We annually participate at the CNU Community STEM Day where we demonstrate robot capabilities to 4,500 visitors. Our team has previously run the FRC Summit at CNU, where regional teams share knowledge on topics such as scouting, build season strategies, and off-season projects. We participated in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 YMCA STEM Fairs at the VA Air and Space Center, showing our robot to over 1,600 students, local dignitaries, and business leaders.

We sponsor and support several local FIRST teams. During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, we provided mentor help and technical resources to FRC team 5957. We donated critical equipment to Warwick River Christian School’s FLL team 24104 when they formed in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, we provided mentor support to FLL team 2581. We continue to sponsor Hines Middle School FTC team by funding their registration and competition fees. In 2017, we loaned climbing ropes, mentor support, and mechanical resources to teams that needed them at competitions. Regarding our past support, FRC team 5546’s head mentor has stated that

“Triple Helix has had a tremendous impact on our rookie year. In the offseason leading up to 2015 they sponsored us for a free trip to Rumble in the Roads, and let us use one of their practice robots to compete with. This really helped us see FIRST-hand what to expect in the upcoming FRC year. Earlier in the school year, they donated one of their previous robots to help us practice and learn how FRC bots operate. Because of this donation, we were able to jump right into our build season, and had our own working drivetrain quickly. On top of all that, they have been very open and generous with information, working with us during a brainstorming session at Franklin, and offering to help us troubleshoot our RoboRio. We owe much of our already successful build season to Team 2363.”

During the 2017 season, our team provided a home to FRC team 122’s students and mentors during an inactive year. Following this experience, one of team 122’s students stated that

“Being on the Triple Helix team helped me grow and experience STEM and leadership from a completely different perspective. It was refreshing to see how such an organized and structured team functioned. For instance, Team 122 never held official ‘reflecting’ sessions that compared previously set goals to what was accomplished at the competitions. However, after being on Triple Helix, I realized just how important that step is to improving as a team. Additionally, communicating through Slack was something that was new to me, but a great method of communication that I learned thanks to Triple Helix. I plan on bringing all these great things I learned from this team to Team 122.”

We’re devoted to making a positive impact on our community through FIRST. A favorite outreach opportunity is with a chapter of Cooperating Hampton Roads Organizations for Minorities in Engineering (CHROME) at a local church; after meeting 20 curious CHROME Club elementary school students in 2015, the students asked for us to return for more robot-related antics, which we have successfully done in 2016 and 2017. We introduced our robot to the 2016 STEM for Girls summer camp hosted by the Peninsula Jaycees and to the visitors at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Nature Connects: Art with LEGO event.

We’re dedicated to spreading awareness of FIRST within our school system. While managing different aspects of the 2016 VA Odyssey of the Mind State Finals Tournament, we were able to advertise our team and answer questions about FIRST. At the end of this event, former MHS Activities Director Pete Mercier stated

“Triple Helix not only dominates the world of robotics, but they are absolutely committed to community service! Even as they are planning for HUGE competitions of their own, they helped all day on Saturday, running events, helping guests, and assisting our cafeteria staff with the serving of food and disposal of trash! They were eager and helpful and we thank [their mentors] for not just helping to get these great kids involved, but for inspiring the spirit of service in these tech-savvy students!”

In 2017, we exhibited at the State of the City Luncheon to local dignitaries and potential sponsors to exemplify advanced STEM programs in our school system; we were able to meet many school board members who were previously unaware of our team. We’ve made a strong connection with our student body through our participation in activity fairs and open houses where we’ve displayed our robot’s capabilities and team’s aesthetic. Through demonstrations at local elementary and middle schools, we ensure that there will be students joining our team in the future.

We’re very proud of our lasting impact on students. We’ve been recognized for our role in encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers by increasing the participation of female students on our team, encouraging their role in leadership positions, and providing opportunities for them to become engaged in the engineering process. Of alumni who graduated in the last 5 years, 97% of our students pursue college educations, with 83% pursuing STEM careers. In our senior exit interviews, graduating seniors report that their Triple Helix experiences award them “a glimpse into the type of job I want to have professionally, a more complete understanding of project management, friendships that I will never forget, and leadership skills to take into college and the workplace.” Students leave with “valuable relationships with mentors who work in industry” and “the confidence to pursue an engineering degree!” Perhaps most succinctly put, however, came from one alumni who said, “I learned what I wanted to do in life.”

Our team regularly quotes the phrase, “it’s not just about the robots.” This has truly been expressed in our constant zeal for spreading the values of FIRST throughout our region, in our ongoing mission to inspire others to pursue technological fields and participate in the worldwide FIRST community.