Press release: Triple Helix seeking workspace

Award-winning high school robotics team Triple Helix Robotics is seeking a new workspace on the Peninsula.

Based at Menchville High School in Newport News since 2007, the volunteer-led team has leveraged the high-energy challenge of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) to deliver life-changing STEM experiences to the region’s students for over 16 years.

As a result of changing security postures following the gun violence that occurred in and around Newport News schools last school year, the school district has adopted a set of risk mitigation policies. As an unfortunate consequence, volunteer access to the Triple Helix workshop has been tightly restricted, making the team’s continued operation from the high school impracticable. A workable solution to maintain the relationship could not be found even after lengthy discussion.

FRC is a high school sport just like any other, aside from two key differences: (1) our student athletes practice in a machine shop rather than on a court, and (2) all of our players can “go pro,” entering the STEM degree programs and careers that will cement them as leaders of the Hampton Roads knowledge economy for the next generation. Last season, Triple Helix ranked in the top 1% of teams worldwide, was recognized by the NNPS school board, and appeared in the local press alongside our government, corporate, and community sponsors.

Triple Helix’s success in reaching our young people has, since its founding, attracted and sustained the engagement of major sponsors, bringing in over $800,000 of community investment over the last eight years. Our high-tech machine sport also attracts the volunteerism of local industry professionals, who not only share tangible STEM skills with our students, but also impart a real understanding of what a rewarding STEM career will look and feel like. The FIRST Robotics Competition program also makes our students fluent with professional-grade tools and software that are far more likely to be found in small engineering firms than in a classroom.

Because of our stakeholders’ continued belief in the importance of the Triple Helix program, we are looking for a new home for the team. The team requires approximately 650 sqft of machine shop, assembly, and storage space (currently donated), as well as about 2400 sqft of practice field space (currently rented at $900/mo). Access to power, internet, and bathrooms is required. The team’s normal hours are weekdays 6-9pm and weekends 9am – 6pm, although off-hours access is occasionally needed as well. The team’s nonprofit sponsor, Intentional Innovation Foundation, maintains liability insurance. Triple Helix’s volunteer mentors pass multiple background checks through their employers as well as the FIRST Youth Protection Program.

To offer a suggestion of a new workspace for the team, or to request more information, please contact Triple Helix at

Triple Helix featured on FirstUpdatesNow’s “Behind the Bumpers”

First Updates Now (FUN) caught up with Triple Helix at the 2023 FIRST Championship and filmed a Behind the Bumpers interview, exploring our 2023 robot Genome Xi.

2363 Triple Helix Robotics had a clean sweep through districts and DCMP with their Charged Up robot’s steady virtual 4 bar arm. Hear about their design process changes, custom vision system and path planning which is free for teams on Behind the Bumpers.

Triple Helix Robotics featured in Daily Press

Next-level experience: Hampton Roads robotics team looks back on ‘most competitive’ season yet

By Gavin Stone
Daily Press
May 7, 2023 at 11:08 am

Triple Helix team members operate their robot during a match in the 2023 FIRST Championship. (Todd Ferrante)

Things didn’t go quite their way at the world robotics championship in Houston, but for the team of Hampton Roads high school students, it’s not about winning.

Triple Helix Robotics, a NASA-sponsored collection of students based out of Menchville High School in Newport News, competed in April’s FIRST Championship — which brings together more than 600 teams from 18 different countries to see whose robot is best. Qualifying for worlds has become part of the culture of Triple Helix in recent years, doing so roughly every other year, though this was only the second time they’ve attended the event since 2017.

They wowed the judges despite their early elimination, taking home the Innovation and Control Award for their robot’s performance in the autonomous portion of the contest. They also earned awards for autonomous performance at four other competitions this season. Dating to last season, they’ve won seven straight regular-season competitions and have captured the district championship two years in a row.

The level of skill in Houston was so high that no teams stood out from the pack, said Justin Babilino, a senior at York High School and the team captain.

“To me, at the end of this one when we’re sitting there watching the final finals, you look at those robots and you can honestly say, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’” said Bill Bretton, who’s been a mentor for the team since 2015. “Previous years we got there and we have a good time and you make it so far but when you watch the finals they’re like ‘pro league’ … but this year we’re right up there and I think we could’ve swapped out for anybody in the finals and I think we could’ve held our own.”

For volunteer head coach Nate Laverdure, the team has never been stronger.

“Overall our competitiveness in the official season has just been over and above anything we’ve done before,” Laverdure said, adding that their ability to communicate what’s special about their robot to the judges was a major factor in their awards for autonomous functions.

Triple Helix team members work on their robot during the 2023 FIRST Championship in Houston. (Todd Ferrante)

According to Statbotics, a site that ranks FIRST Robotics Competition teams, Triple Helix is ranked 34th out of 3,294 teams and first out of 66 in Virginia.

The expectation of success wasn’t built overnight. It grew over years of aggressive recruiting, bringing in middle school students who show a particular talent for robotics, Laverdure said. The use of the STEM Gym in Newport News, which allows robotics teams from across the region to work out the kinks in an open setting, has also helped Triple Helix reach new heights — especially with their autonomous routines.

“If you look at our long-term success over the past few years I think one of the big things that was the difference was once we got the STEM Gym we started competing to a lot higher level,” Babilino said. “If you have a practice space to work out all those little issues with your robot then it just gives you such a huge competitive advantage.”

Laverdure explained that at the championship in Houston, live competition only lasts about 20 minutes total — teams guide their robots to retrieve game pieces and balance on a platform while their opponents try to thwart them — so if you can practice for 20 hours ahead of time “you can totally dominate.”

As much as the team wants to win, strengthening the robotics community takes an even higher priority. Many Triple Helix members are part of a Discord messaging forum where thousands of robotics competitors from around the world work out technical problems and share breakthroughs. All of Triple Helix’s software and much of their mechanical design is open source, meaning its freely available to distribute or modify, according to Laverdure.

A team from Michigan uses Triple Helix’s software, and at least one other squad in their district uses it. But thousands of teams use a swerve joystick kinematic process designed by Triple Helix members, the coach said.

“It feels so much better to kick butt on the playing field when you know that all the competitors also had access to all the same information,” said Laverdure.

“It’s not like we’re not winning because we’re hiding something from people,” Babilino added, “and it really is great to help everyone do better and make the competition more fun in general.”

Through Discord and other means, Josh Nichols, a homeschooled senior and the programming lead for the team, has made contributions to the work of many other teams by sharing his own research.

“That’s really the great part of it is interacting with other teams because really we’re only so many people … but by interacting and working with thousands of teams from across the world online it allows you to develop so much more advanced technology,” Nichols said. “Regardless of the competition outcome, that’s the best part of the competition for me is the actual robot we develop and building something so much more complex and advanced because of this interaction with other people and sharing knowledge.”

Britton saw the students overcome challenges both personal and technical over the course of the season. Quiet students became better leaders, inexperienced students learned new skills, and they had to be resourceful to fix problems during competition.

Late in the district championship, the pivot point in their robot’s arm had begun to warp and sag, causing the chains to loosen on their sprockets. To fix it, they reinforced the arm by cutting up the aluminum legs from a three-legged camping stool someone had in their station and “jammed” it into the center of the arm, Britton said. They later added another piece of steel from Lowe’s.

Those quick fixes were part of the robot throughout the world championship.

“If somebody looked at it they’d never know that anything was different but we look at it and we go, ‘wow, that’s a pretty good fix that lasted’ — it’s just pretty neat. Resourceful,” Britton said.

Britton noted the team’s resilience when, after a strong start in the district championship, they lost a round and had to fight their way out of the losers’ bracket.

“I don’t think anybody said, ‘oh boy this is it’ — they didn’t, they just go, ‘Oh, so it’s just going to take longer,’” he said. “There was never that feeling like they were defeated.”

Triple Helix’s robot, number 2363, carries a cone to their grid to score points in the 2023 FIRST Championship. (Todd Ferrante)

The world championship was also a recruiting ground for many of the top engineering companies and government agencies in the country. Nichols is currently doing an internship with NASA, where he is writing pathfinding algorithms to make robots follow a trajectory from point A to point B — which he said is “incredibly similar” to what he does in robotics competitions.

Britton has seen firsthand the power of having participated in FIRST Robotics Competitions, saying it “opened doors” for both his children while other students were still trying to build their resumés. Employers value the experience with AutoCAD, fabrication, troubleshooting and firsthand knowledge the students gain.

“Both of them had really great opportunities … They get jobs and assignments, projects in college simply because they have tons of experience that their peers don’t have,” Britton said. “If you didn’t do (the robotics competitions) you could completely go through a four-year degree and not do any of that.”

“It surprises me that (robotics teams) aren’t everywhere,” he continued, “I don’t know why every school doesn’t have a team because the way things are so focused on technology and STEM — this is the fast track to get you there.”

Gavin Stone, 757-712-4806,

2023 IRI application

Triple Helix students have proudly submitted the following application to the 2023 Indiana Robotics Invitational, a competitive and prestigious annual offseason FRC tournament in the Indianapolis area.

What competitions did you attend in 2023?

What was your best performance of 2023?

At the Chesapeake District Championship, we were ranked 2nd after qualifications and formed an unbeatable alliance, emerging with a 5-0-0 record in the playoffs. This achievement marked our seventh consecutive win in the FIRST Chesapeake District over two seasons. Closing out this extraordinary season, we finished rank #30 in the USA and #34 worldwide (

Do you have any special circumstances?

In addition to our on-field success, we have maintained a large reach in the FRC community through our presence on YouTube and our website publications. We accumulated over 31,000 views this year for our reveal and prototyping videos, and have over 350,000 lifetime views. Many innovations we’ve shared during the season have been adopted by other teams across the country, including our autonomous path planning optimization software, our auto camera LED alignment system, our two wheel intake design, and our simultaneous three-camera custom vision system. Joel Noble of FRC 1339 stated “I’ve personally benefited the most over many years from 95 and 2363 content, both of which continue to be a model for open development and design.”

Triple Helix Robotics featured in Newport News Public Schools newsletter

The Triple Helix robotics team, based at Menchville High School, successfully defended their title as Champions of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Chesapeake District (VA/MD/DC) in Fairfax April 6-8 and advanced to compete at the World Championship in Houston.

The judging panel at the District Championship also recognized Triple Helix with the Innovation in Control Award, which celebrates innovative control techniques to achieve gameplay functions. This greatly enhanced their performance on the field.

Triple Helix, FRC 2363, won the three-day District Championship alongside alliance partners FRC 1731 Fresta Valley Robotics Club from Warrenton, Virginia, and FRC 2199 Robo-Lions from Finksburg, Maryland. The event featured the top 60 high school FRC teams from Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Over 135 matches were played to determine the winning alliance. Triple Helix is in the process of fundraising to get to the World Championship.

Triple Helix is an all-volunteer organization made up of hardworking students and mentors. The team’s high level of technical competence has enabled them to regularly compete on the world stage. Triple Helix also shares their expertise by providing in-person mentor support, sharing and donating resources, publishing whitepapers, and making conference presentations.

The chief sponsors of Triple Helix include NASA, Army Research Laboratory, DoD STEM, The Boeing Company and Newport News Shipbuilding.

Triple Helix Robotics featured in Daily Press

Newport News robotics team headed to world championship

By Nour Habib
Daily Press
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

The competition will be held April 19-22.

Nour Habib,

Making robust LED strip lights

LED strip lights look great on your robot, and can be used to communicate robot state to your drivers, so they never need to look away from the bot. But, the strips are vulnerable to battle damage, and the wire to strip connections are fragile. Our friends at team 1610 introduced us to these LED strip light diffusion channels that make LED strip lights on your robot way more robust. Plus, the strip light units can be made on the bench away from the robot in just minutes. Here is the process for building one of these light strip units, from start to finish.

Build guide [pdf]

Triple Helix Robotics featured in The Virginian-Pilot

Five teams of Hampton Roads students — and the robots they built — make playoffs during regional competition

By Gavin Stone
The Virginian-Pilot
Mar 20, 2023 at 6:34 pm

PORTSMOUTH — A small army of robots — built by teenagers — descended on Portsmouth this weekend to battle for supremacy.

Students from Hampton Roads were among 29 teams from the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area who met at Churchland High School to duke it out in a game called Charged Up, which puts teams in a mock energy-storage scenario. This involves collecting cubes and cones, which are added to their respective “grids,” then balancing their robots on a charging platform before time runs out.

Jacob Dizon, left, and Greyson Watts, right, pilot their robot while dressed as knights in the FIRST Robotics competition at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Virginia on March 18, 2023. The team, NASA Knights, are based in Hampton, Virginia and are sponsored by NASA Langley Research Center. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot)

Teams form alliances for each match and have to work together with students from other schools to win, and these partnerships benefit them in the playoffs when the top-performing teams get to pick who will join them. Students also take on the role of talent scouts, evaluating what their robots’ weaknesses are and identifying teams that can offset them for the best chance of winning.

This spirit of “coopertition” — a mashup of the words cooperation and competition — extends to the sharing of parts to help with repairs for damage sustained during matches, according to David Martin, a mentor for Royal Robotics of Portsmouth.

Of the seven Hampton Roads teams competing this weekend, five made the playoffs, with Triple Helix Robotics out of Menchville High School in Newport News leading the winning alliance in the final round. The teams that qualify for the district championship at George Mason University in April won’t be selected until after the next Charged Up event in Glenn Allen this weekend. All these events lead up to the world championship in Houston the weekend of April 19.

The robot from team Imperial Robotics (4286) attempts to balance on the charging station before time expires, while Triple Helix’s robot (back left) works on adding the cubes and cones to their grid, at the FIRST Robotics competition at Churchland High School in Portsmouth on March 18, 2023. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot)

Each match starts with the robots operating autonomously for 15 seconds to try and score points. Then the students take over — often with a familiar Xbox controller — as chaos ensues. The robots frantically zoom around the playing field and smash into each other over and over while precisely guiding the cones and cubes into their grids.

The students have access to base code and guidelines for certain parts of their robots, but the majority of the construction is the work of the students themselves, Martin said. The students also determine their strategy.

The autonomous portion is where Triple Helix Robotics, which counts NASA among its sponsors, felt it could get out ahead of the competition early. The team’s autonomous performance ultimately won it the Autonomous Award given to the robot with the best ability to sense its surroundings, position itself and execute tasks on its own.

Triple Helix members honed their code at the STEM Gym in Newport News, where they can scrimmage other teams on a replica playing field similar to the one used this weekend, according to head coach Nate Laverdure. He explained that their robot was able to read the barcodes on the grids and use those to triangulate its location, count the rotations of the wheels and calculate its inertia — and use all these data points to guide the robot where it needs to go as accurately as possible.

“These kids are doing stuff that academic researchers are writing their Ph.D. theses on and people in industry are building companies around — there’s companies that are focused on solving exactly the same problems that we’re solving with high school students,” Laverdure said.

Jonathan Buszard, a junior in Triple Helix, said that engineering classwork can only take you so far.

“This is like you’re right in the thick of it, doing all the stuff you’re learning, doing new stuff all the time,” Buszard said.

Another NASA-sponsored team from Hampton Roads, the NASA Knights — a team out of New Horizons Regional Education Center in Hampton who were decked out in makeshift suits of armor — said they spent about 14 hours per week on their robot. Freshman Grace Walker said she put in a total of about 300 hours in their shop last year during the season and offseason.

“It was pretty much my second home,” Walker said. “I was like, ‘Oh I’m back here again, might as well build a robot.’”

Royal Robotics out of Churchland High School improved on its performance at the previous competition, during which it broke its robot’s claw almost immediately. This time it employed a simpler grabbing mechanism using a pneumatic system that simply squeezed two metal bars together, and worked out some new code for the autonomous portion that paid dividends on Sunday.

Robots battle for rank at the FIRST Robotics competition at Churchland High School in Portsmouth on March 18, 2023. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot)

Going into the weekend Royal Robotics wanted to have all three of its alliance’s robots balanced on the charge station, which is worth a lot of points because of the coordination it requires, but one of its allies’ robots knocked another ally’s robot off the charge station in the process, explained Ray Clause, a senior at Churchland High School and build captain. Clause said he tends to focus on gathering the cubes and stealing them from the other alliance when he can, “because that’s just the kind of person I am.”

Not only are students applying what they’ve learned in school and putting those concepts into action, they’re also learning complex social skills that will serve them later in life, Martin explained.

“It’s been very rewarding seeing the kids grow and just being able to learn stuff, some kids come in pretty shy, and getting them to open up — it’s been good,” Martin said. “We’ve had kids that come in who weren’t very social and by the end they’re still not super social but they at least do get more social, and that’s good to see.”

Chris Wilson, a sophomore at Churchland and the programmer for Royal Robotics, said he was completely uninitiated in basic physics concepts, but now he’s got a working knowledge of them.

“Two years ago when I first joined, when they were mentioning things like torque and force and centers of gravity — I didn’t know a thing,” Wilson said, “but now I’m like, ‘OK, I understand what stuff is and how it works.’”

Gavin Stone, 757-712-4806,