Newport News robotics team headed to world championship
By Nour Habib
Apr 16, 2023 at 10:44 am
The Triple Helix robotics team is headed to Houston next week after qualifying for the FIRST Championship, an international youth robotics competition.
Triple Helix is based at Menchville High School in Newport News. The team, which also includes members from other Newport News schools as well as homeschooled students and students from York County, qualified for the world championship at the district championship event in Fairfax earlier this month.
Nate Laverdure, the volunteer head coach, said the team consists of 15 students and seven adult mentors. Laverdure, a mechanical engineer at Jefferson Lab, has headed the team since 2015. He says he enjoys working with the students and watching them learn and grow.
“The cool thing about our sport is that we are given a challenge each year and everybody, all the team members, the students and the adults, all can start from a place of not knowing the answer,” he said.
He said game officials release a challenge in January and the teams then start prototyping and testing ideas to see what works. This year’s challenge is a “pick and place” game, in which robots have to collect traffic cones and place them on their respective “grids,” among other tasks, before time runs out. The competition involves portions of “autonomous” play, where robots operate on their own based on pre-programming by the team, as well as portions where students use a remote control to operate the robots.
Josh Nichols, 17, is the software captain of the team. He said a big part of their strategy is to simply out-practice other teams to help them be prepared for anything that can happen on the field. Nichols estimates they’ve logged more than 100 hours of practice on this challenge.
Nichols, who is homeschooled, said he’s been on the team since eighth grade. The experience has factored into his plan to pursue a career in computer engineering.
“I want to be able to try to engineer these systems that can work independently on their own, without human intervention,” he said. Think self-driving cars.
Nichols said part of the excitement about heading to the world championship is that they will get to meet and network with international teams.
“You get to interact with all these people, united by the idea of problem-solving and engineering.
Lucas Powell-Riedl is a junior at Menchville High School and has been a member of the Triple Helix robotics team since 2020. He takes care of the electrical aspects of the robot.
Powell-Riedl, 17, said he enjoys the opportunity to work with the mentors on the team.
“It sets me up with lots of connections that I can use for the future, especially since I plan on going into STEM later.”
But he also said he’s also in it for the fun.
“You get to build something yourself, design something yourself, work with teammates and friends on a project,” he said. “There’s no other thing that I’ve found, no other game, that gives you this freedom.
Laverdure said the team has qualified for the world championship several times previously, but was not always able to go to the event.
“It takes a fair bit of community support,” he said.
The team is currently raising money to help finance the trip, and anyone interested in contributing can visit www.gofundme.com/f/frc2363.
The competition will be held April 19-22.Nour Habib, email@example.com