SDS MK4 swerve wheel tread jigs

Triple Helix designed and fabricated a set of drilling jigs to prepare replacement strips of treads for the Swerve Drive Specialties MK4 and MK4i swerve module. These jigs reproduce the hole spacing for black neoprene and blue nitrile tread material shared by SDS’s Patrick Woolfenden here; treads prepared using these tools install tightly on the nominal 4″ diameter x 1.5″ wide MK4 swerve wheel. Triple Helix used our 130W laser cutter to cut the components of the tread tools from 1/4″ Delrin sheet.

Onshape document

Assembly instructions:

  • Laser cut the top and bottom plates from 1/4″ sheet.
  • Laser cut the spacer plate(s) to match the thickness of the tread material.
  • Drill and tap the holes around the perimeter of the bottom plate to 8-32.
  • Drill the corresponding holes on the other 2 plates to provide clearance for an 8-32 fastener.
  • Install drill bushings (McMaster 96511A666) into the top plate such that they are flush with the lower surface.
  • Assemble the drill jig with SHCS 8-32 x 5/8″ LG fasteners.

2022 IRI application

Triple Helix students have proudly submitted the following application to the 2022 Indiana Robotics Invitational, a competitive and prestigious annual offseason FRC tournament in the Indianapolis area.

What competitions did you attend in 2022?

What was your best performance this year?

Triple Helix won our District Championship as the first overall pick of the event, and with a first-time robot driver. Over the season, we accumulated a 55-4-3 W/L/T record including a 27 match win streak and having gone undefeated at one district event.

Are there any special circumstances we need to know about?

Working with limited membership due to COVID, we focused on building the fastest possible Cargo cycling robot. With a simple robot design, and by devoting remaining time to practice and tuning, this strategy led to competitive success unprecedented for our team. We prioritized Cargo cycling to maximize points during teleop even during the last 30s; by ending matches with a buzzerbeater climb using an improved Everybot climber, we were able to rival Traversal climbers representing far greater resource investment and mechanical complexity.

During competition season, we selected and trained a new driver ~1 week prior to the DCMP due to an injury on the drive team. Triple Helix declined our invitation to the FIRST Championship due to travel restrictions by the school system.

Link to a team video, if you would like to share one.

Triple Helix featured in Jefferson Lab news

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) featured the following news story:

ROBOTICS TEAM TRANSFORMS STEM INTO A SPORT

Jefferson Lab’s Nate Laverdure volunteers as the head coach of Triple Helix, a high school robotics team shooting to success this year

NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Excitement fills the air on game day for Triple Helix Robotics, a team of about 12 students and their seven adult mentors headquartered at Menchville High School in Newport News, VA.

“The energy is enormous,” said Nate Laverdure, who volunteers as head coach of the team year-round in addition to working as a cryogenics mechanical engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.  

A day of matches lies ahead, but it’s not the team members that will be on the field. Instead, the students will control a robot they spent the last three months designing, building and testing. 

These matches are part of the FIRST Robotics Competition, a worldwide league that releases a new game in January of each year before its competitive events begin in March.  

“All these teams have been working hard in their shops, solving these problems and figuring out how to play a game that nobody has ever played before. They are super excited to bring their solution and see how it does in competition,” Laverdure said. “It’s thrilling.”

Like many sports, the games that FIRST comes up with typically involve shooting balls into a goal for points. (But sometimes they entail throwing frisbees or hanging inflatable tubes on pegs.) For the 2022 game, the robots must pick up and shoot oversized tennis balls. Each match is a two-and-a-half-minute scramble to get as many balls as possible of their team’s color into a central goal. There are two alliances, red and blue, with three robots to each alliance. At the end, the robots climb as high as they can up ascending monkey bars to earn extra points.

The robot Triple Helix created for this year’s game is excelling. During matches, it zooms around, sucking balls off the floor and shooting them into the air like a pitching machine.

“Our robot is kind of blowing people out of the water,” Laverdure said. “I think it’s because we were able to design a fairly simple solution.”

The team designed and built their robot within a few weeks after the game was announced. They attribute their success to all the practice they’ve packed in since then.

“We have truly found world-class performance this year,” Laverdure said. “If you look at the stats in different directions, we’re pretty much in the top 15 of 3,700 teams worldwide right now.”

Triple Helix’s robot is so good, the team qualified for the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship, where they joined 60 of the top teams from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC to play the same game. Triple Helix won the 3-day event alongside alliance partners the RoboBees from Hollywood, Maryland, and the Warbots from Vienna, Virginia.

Before their last competition of the regular season, Triple Helix made some upgrades.

“We believe in the iterative engineering design process, so we’re going back and looking at our hypotheses and changing our solution and seeing if that improves our robot,” Laverdure said.

This same iterative design process drew Laverdure to Jefferson Lab after he earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Old Dominion University. Unlike most industry jobs, his work on cryogenic refrigerators at the lab allows him to cover the entire engineering life cycle, from conception to design, implementation and operation.

“I like using feedback from each step to make better and better solutions,” he said.

He instills this same process in Triple Helix members. Laverdure wanted to volunteer with a youth robotics team after graduating from college, because he participated in the FIRST program when he was in high school. His favorite part is watching the students grow—both in their technical abilities and as people.

“I wanted to design and build cool robots with high school kids,” he said. “It’s also really fulfilling when our students and mentors come together to tackle these crazy problems that, initially, nobody knows how to solve.”

Running the team has also taught him about project management and allows him to do the type of hands-on work he doesn’t get to do at the lab.

“I don’t even know where the closest wrench is here,” he said.

Laverdure is not the only one at Jefferson Lab who helps with a youth robotics team: More than a dozen others around the laboratory have volunteered with teams like Triple Helix.  

Triple Helix was supported by the JSA Initiatives Fund from fiscal years 2016 through 2020. Team members have participated in Jefferson Lab’s mentoring and internship programs, and some have even gone on to work at the lab.

Will Sapp, a former Triple Helix team member who is now a mechanical designer at Jefferson Lab, said some of his most memorable moments in high school were with the robotics team.

“Everyone was very diverse in experiences and backgrounds, yet with our common goal, we were able to make it to the world championship with our robot Genome Theta in 2016,” he said. Sapp worked under Laverdure’s guidance while on the team.  

“Nate played an instrumental role in guiding the team,” Sapp said. “It was and is clear that the students’ learning was a high priority for him.”

According to Sapp, Laverdure gave the students full creative freedom, but he was always available when questions arose. He said the team helped cement his career path.  

“It was actually because of my time on the team that made me think to apply here at the lab,” Sapp said.

He said skills he honed on the team, including machining, mechanical assembly, design, programming and electrical, “matched up perfectly with my degree in mechanical engineering technologies and propelled me into the field with confidence.”

Ultimately, getting students interested in STEM is what youth robotics teams are all about.

“We want to raise the profile of STEM as a potential career choice, as something these kids are excited by,” said Laverdure. “And the trick that we’re playing is that we’re making STEM into a sport. It’s not quite ready for prime time, but it’s thrilling in person.”

Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be tuning in.

Further Reading (Videos):
Triple Helix’s 2022 robot reveal 
Field-side footage of a match 
An explainer of the FIRST Robotics Competition

By Chris Patrick

Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, kcarter@jlab.org

Triple Helix featured in Menchville HS student newspaper The Lion’s Roar

A feature article by student reporter — and new Triple Helix teammate! — Danae L appeared in The Lion’s Roar, the student newspaper of Menchville High School.

Danae Ludy, Staff Writer
April 27, 2022

While Menchville is known for its marching band, basketball team, and football team, I would like to shine the spotlight on the unsung champions of Menchville, the Triple Helix Robotics team.

Located in the back of Menchville’s Tech building, the Triple Helix workshop is outfitted with the most professional-grade equipment needed to fabricate an effective FIRST Robotics Competition robot. Students work alongside experienced mentors to develop valuable skills on this equipment. This equipment includes precision metal machining equipment including a 6×26″ manual mill with DRO and a 9×29″ manual lathe, an 80 watt CNC laser cutter designed and built by Triple Helix, and multiple 3D printers.

I had the chance to attend one of their meetings, and it was an experience I will never forget. The atmosphere was filled with creativity and inspiration, and the connection within the team among the students and mentors was astonishing. I got to experience first-hand what it’s like being a part of the team, including playing with the robot and learning how to mold two wires by soldering them. Solder, commonly misspelled as Sauter, is a fusible metal alloy used to create a permanent bond between metal workpieces. The solder is melted to adhere to and connect the pieces after cooling, which requires an alloy suitable for use as the solder has a lower melting point than the pieces being joined. I was also able to explore the workshop while seeing the team in action as they worked on repairs for their award-winning robot.

Although they have the same basic program foundation for actions like driving, each robot is uniquely catered to the challenge of each year that is announced on the kickoff day in January. The competitions take place throughout March and April. This year’s topic was Rapid React where two teams of three groups compete head-to-head to score their cargo balls into the lower and upper hub. They earn additional points if their robots traverse — travel across or through — the rungs of their hangar.

Triple Helix has a team of several mentors that is composed of Bill Bretton, Don Brunk, Cameron Caldwell, Todd Ferrante, Chris Garrity, Jasen Jacobsen, Amy Nichols, and the head coach, Nate Laverdure. According to Ferrante the “mentor philosophy” to teaching the right way has four steps. “I do, you watch. I do, you help. You do, I help. You do, I watch.”

The team includes students from Menchville, York High, Warwick High, Tabb High, Poquoson High, and Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and School.  The innovative and inventive Triple Helix robotics team is one of the best teams in the DMV (Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area.

According to their webpage, the “Triple Helix is the competitive robotics team of Menchville High School in Newport News, Virginia. They compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition as Team 2363.” Triple Helix was founded in September 2007 by its founding partner, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, to expand student access to scientific and technical education at Menchville. The team also represents one of its other well-known partners, the NASA Langley Research Center. As said by the team themselves, “A commitment to excellence is ‘in our genes!’”

Although the workshop is at Menchville, the designs are tested at the STEM Gym. Located at 11516 Jefferson Ave #2 and founded by the Intentional Innovation Foundation, the Peninsula STEM Gym is a place for student robotics teams to develop competition robots and have real-world engineering experiences that will inspire a lifelong interest in science and math. The STEM Gym features a 75% FRC practice field, a complete official FIRST Tech Challenge field sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding, and a meeting space for 20.

If you’re interested in joining or seeing the team in action, you can message the team at contact@team2363.org, swing by any of the meetings as posted on calendar.team2363.org to meet the team and learn how you can get involved, and come out to STEM Day on May 21st at Christopher Newport University.

If you want to learn more, you can visit their website at team2363.org.

Newsletter: Triple Helix wins the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship

Yesterday evening, our Triple Helix robotics team was crowned winners of the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship held at the Hampton Coliseum, having competed against the 60 highest-ranked high school FIRST Robotics Competition teams in Virginia, Maryland, and DC.

Photo courtesy of Zach Clarke

Our #1 seeded alliance was captained by the RoboBees of Hollywood, MD and joined by partner team 620 Warbots of Vienna, VA. We didn’t have an easy path to victory– the playoff rounds of this event were the most nerve-wracking matches I have ever experienced in my 20 years of FRC.

Triple Helix finishes our 2022 regular season: 

  • ranked #2 out of over 100 teams in our 3-state region,
  • with a W-L-T record of 55-4-3,
  • having acquired 4 of those precious blue “WINNER” banners (something only 3 other teams worldwide have done so far!), and
  • having faced off against our friends 1610 an unfortunate (and perhaps record breaking?) 3 times in the final rounds of a tournament

In addition to our outstanding performance as a team, our team members were recognized individually as well:

  • Our lead programming student (and at this event, our human player!) Joshua Nichols was selected as one of the three Dean’s List Finalists to represent FIRST Chesapeake on the world level. We’re so incredibly proud of Josh and the work he has done over a period of 9+ years to not only increase visibility and respect for STEM in his community, but also to create real STEM exploration opportunities for those who need it. Read our nominating essay, written by the team mentors, here.
  • Our mentor Chris Garrity was recognized as one of the mentors nominated for the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award, which celebrates effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design. Chris is not only a core mentor for Triple Helix but he’s also a reliable event volunteer who makes our competition season possible. Read our nominating essay, written by the team students, here.

There are so many amazing stories to share from this event and from this season. Stories about struggle, sacrifice, mistakes, bad fortune, good fortune, commitment, skill, resilience, and reward. Our team members will carry these experiences with them for the rest of their lives.

Sometimes in this community we hear the phrases “More than robots” and “It’s not about the robot” and even “This isn’t a robot”. These things certainly capture a great realization– that our program is about using the robot to build better people, not about using people to build better robots. But if you jump directly to this logical endpoint, and you don’t come to it after first falling for the Randy Pausch-style “head fake”, I worry that the big impact of this realization can be lost. I warn people from taking this shortcut, because I’ve felt that it’s so much more rewarding if you take the longer road to understanding. This is why, as a team, we can take the attitude that It Is About The Robot… it’s because “the robot” is enough. “The robot” can encapsulate all of the things– the hard-won lessons about sportsmanship, perseverance, honesty, ability, and being a member of a team. The head fake is important; “the robot” is important.

On all of those intertwined levels of understanding– man, our team’s robot this year has been a really great one.

We cannot be more grateful to our entire network of stakeholders for what they do to enable our success. I hope that every parent, sponsor, school administrator, alumni, and friend of the team who receives this message can feel they share in our victory. Your belief in our mission, and your partnership, is essential. Thank you.

The team is taking a couple days off. On Tuesday, our post-season starts. We’d really like you to be a part of it!


Nate Laverdure
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics

Woodie Flowers 2022: Chris Garrity

Triple Helix students are proud to submit the following Woodie Flowers Award nomination for mentor and alumni Chris Garrity.

Chris G, former Triple Helix student and current mentor, spends every day bringing his professional knowledge and unmatched enthusiasm for STEM to everything he does. From mentoring students on 2363 to helping organize FTC tournaments, he is a role model that all of our students aspire to be.

There is not a more supportive mentor than Chris G. Throughout Covid, our team meeting possibilities became more limited and could not access our workspace at the high school. Our team facilitates the Peninsula STEM Gym, but we were still not able to have large numbers of team members there. We were participating in the 2020 FRC challenges and Chris would meet team members there to let us work. Many days he sat for hours on his days off, supporting meetings so even one student could work all day on their project. He offered guidance when needed, but let the students take the lead.

While there are many ways to approach designing a FRC robot, Chris emphasizes an approach of rapid iterative prototyping that involves all students and teaches valuable hands-on experience. He inspires students by teaching them how to make their creative ideas into real designs. These same students use what they have learned to teach new students, creating a powerful cycle to keep all team members included and engaged.

Chris is constantly encouraging students to express their ideas. He shares thoughts on our Slack channel and encourages students to comment on the ideas and share their own, working together to strengthen our ideas. He encourages all students to contribute to the design of the robot since he acknowledges that everyone provides a unique perspective that gives our team a competitive edge. His enthusiasm during the season makes the hard work of FRC fun for all students.

He provides summaries of meetings to keep everyone on the same page, and documents significant mechanical findings to give people unable to attend meetings a clear idea of what the team was doing so they can contribute.

Chris clearly explains technical concepts to students so they feel they can make a significant contribution and share these concepts with other students. He serves as safety mentor and has written and presented information for the entire team about safe practices while fabricating the robot.

Chris G has changed our team for the better. He exhibits everything that FIRST stands for; through his passion for engineering, his enthusiasm and patience in working with students, and his true caring for all members of the team. His kindness, generosity, and desire to see us succeed has made us believe in ourselves, and this is what we will take with us, long after we move on from FRC.

The Engineering Awards Hexafecta

Triple Helix Robotics has won each of the following Machine, Creativity, & Innovation Awards of the modern FIRST Robotics Competition.

AwardEvent most recently won atRobot
Autonomous Award2022 CHS District Greater Richmond Event #2Genome Nu
Creativity Award2019 FIRST Chesapeake District ChampionshipGenome Lambda
Excellence in Engineering Award2011 Palmetto RegionalGenome Gamma
Industrial Design Award2014 Chesapeake RegionalGenome Zeta
Innovation in Control Award2018 CHS District Northern Virginia EventGenome Kappa
Quality Award2013 Virginia RegionalGenome Epsilon

Find other Hexafecta teams here.