Newsletter: Triple Helix Robotics – July 2019 update

In the news: the Peninsula STEM Gym
During the school year, hundreds of students practice their passions in after-school clubs such as art, sports and STEM programs. But where do some of these teams like robotics, meet to practice for the upcoming season? The Peninsula STEM Gym, of course.”  Our community robotics practice facility in Newport News was the subject of a Williamsburg Yorktown Daily article published yesterday.

Founded and operated by Triple Helix’s operating sponsor Intentional Innovation Foundation (IIF), 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.  Our gym features a 75%-sized mockup FRC field as well as an official FIRST Tech Challenge playing field sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding.  These resources are available for our neighbors to share.

The Peninsula STEM Gym was initially established with the generous assistance of a Community Knights GIFT Grant.  Ongoing operation of the STEM Gym is supported by IIF and Triple Helix sponsors.  More information about our STEM Gym can be found here.

Now live: our 2019 Chairman’s Award video
Triple Helix students and mentors developed this video during the spring 2019 season to meet the submission requirements for the FIRST Chairman’s Award and to discuss the personal impact that team participation has had in their lives.

Only 10 team registration slots remaining for the 2019 Rumble in the Roads
The 6th annual Rumble in the Roads, Hampton Roads’ unofficial offseason FRC tournament, is scheduled for Saturday, November 3, 2019 at Heritage High School in Newport News.  Team registrations for the event has proceeded quickly and the competition is now just 10 teams away from being full.  Triple Helix is proud to help organize this event along with partners Blackwater Robotics team 1610 and CAT5 Cybercanes team 5957.  The volunteer registration for the event will open later this summer; stay tuned for more information!

Summer work is well underway
Triple Helix meets year-round, and this summer we have been diving deep into team development projects, training activities, outreach event planning, collaborations with other teams, and more.  Now is a great time to drop by and check out what we’re all about!

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

Newsletter: Triple Helix Robotics update – May 2019

Season recap
Triple Helix concludes our 2019 competition season with an overall record of 31 wins, 17 losses, and 1 tie in official matches across three competitions, winning one event and making our exit as semifinalists in another.  We were proud to receive two judged technical awards, including one at the regional championship level, for the design creativity we exhibited in our approach to the Destination: Deep Space challenge.  In addition, with the Engineering Inspiration Award we were recognized for our hard work towards our organization’s core mission of developing an interest and respect for STEM in our community– a radically gratifying thing to receive this acknowledgement for something we hold so important.

The FIRST Robotics Competition is one game, played on a thousand levels.  Only a few of these levels have points, rules, and a strong definition of what it means to be “successful.”  While our team’s performance across our competition season was stellar and successful by a number of important metrics, we missed the bullseye on a couple of our goals, including making a strong play for the win at our regional championship event.  In the engineering world, “failures” don’t have a negative connotation– stuff fails, and learning from its failure is key to meaningful improvement.  Our friend Karthik Kanagasabapathy says that “only a few teams are going to win the event, so failure is… intrinsically part of the FIRST experience… Success is inspiring but there are more learning opportunities associated with failure if you handle failure correctly.”  Continuous improvement is central to our team culture; the learning opportunities that Triple Helix experienced this season have already become valuable assets in our toolbox.  Our competitors would love the chance to peek inside that toolbox!

At the District Championship, I was awarded the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award which “celebrates effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design.”  While this is an individual award in name, it truly reflects the strength of the team as a whole (which is why the award comes with a blue banner for the team!).  I owe my thanks to everyone in the Triple Helix community, and especially the current and former students, for your contribution to our program.  The team works because of your passion and your belief in our mission– and because you’ve learned the big “secret:” that’s it’s fun to work super hard and accomplish something meaningful as a part of a team.  I have greatly enjoyed working and playing with you over the past 5 seasons.  I’m so proud of what we’ve built together– and of you.  Let’s keep it going…

We are indebted to the many wonderful sponsors who make our program not just possible, but also effective and important.

Now is the perfect time to join
(also, come to our open house the evening of Thursday, May 30)
If you’re on the fence about getting involved in the team, know that May-June is the best time to visit, poke around, lend a hand, and become a team member.  For our year-round team, the summer is all about tech development projects, training, outreach, and fundraising.  Since every team member is working on learning something new, you’ll fit in really well.

Our doors are always open, but on one special night this month, we’ll be hosting an open house for all interested new folks.  Please join us on Thursday, May 30th starting at 6:30pm to speak with current our students and mentors, tour our workspace at Menchville HS, and learn more about how you can help us build an even stronger team.

Our year-round team simulates a small engineering firm, and we have a core product: our mentors and students work side-by-side to field a highly competitive FRC robot. Building a robot requires wiring a complex electrical system, writing hundreds of lines of code, machining and assembling high-precision parts, and much more. As a company we also have many extensive public speaking and outreach opportunities, as well as the need to write essays, film and edit videos, and develop marketing materials. If you’re not a technical person, there’s still a place on the team for you! Remember that you need no experience, special skills or knowledge to be a valuable member of our team.

We’re recruiting adults too!

Save the date – Rumble in the Roads
The 6th annual Rumble in the Roads, Hampton Roads’ unofficial offseason FRC tournament, is scheduled for Saturday, November 3, 2019 at Heritage High School in Newport News.  Triple Helix is proud to help organize this event along with partners Blackwater Robotics team 1610 and CAT5 Cybercanes team 5957.  The volunteer registration for the event will open later this summer; stay tuned for more information!

Congratulations to Jason Ingram
Triple Helix congratulates VCU College of Health Professions student Jason Ingram on completion of his degree requirements and imminent graduation as a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD).  Triple Helix was a key part of Jason’s doctoral experiential capstone project: exploring the crossroads of engineering and occupational therapy.  Jason joined Triple Helix this season and worked alongside our students and mentors to develop and modify assistive technology for clients throughout Hampton Roads.  As a result of this experience, our students gained a deep appreciation for how they can use their budding engineering skills to make a meaningful, personal impact in their community, and we look forward to continuing our relationships with the many therapy professionals and organizations Jason connected us with this spring.  We also look forward to working with our next VCU OT student who is planning to continue and extend the long-term project when she joins us in January 2020!

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

Accessible controls for ride-on toy car

This spring, Triple Helix partnered with an occupational therapy doctoral student from Virginia Commonwealth University to develop assistive devices for people in the Hampton Roads region. Through communication with the Children’s Assistive Technology Service (CATS) a need was identified for a modified ride-on toy car, based on the University of Delaware’s GoBabyGo project. This project aims to provide access to low-cost mobility devices for young children without other means of exploring their environment. In this case, the recipient was a young girl who does not have the ability to move her lower extremities as a result of a birth defect.

To provide access to the car’s controls, a 5-inch switch was mounted on the steering column and wired via a relay switch to the car’s motor to replace the foot pedal function. Additionally, PVC handles were added on each side of the center switch for more ergonomic steering control. To also allow for simultaneous propulsion and steering, the handles fit over a laser-cut Lexan frame which, when flexed, activate an additional limit switch on each side of the steering column. This design concept can be applied to other ride-on cars, depending on a particular child’s needs and functional abilities.

STEP file

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!


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