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.

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.

Chairman’s Award judge feedback

Triple Helix Robotics is proud to share the feedback we received from the judge panels who interviewed us about our 2022 Chairman’s Award submission.

In regards to the feedback from the Greater Richmond Event #1 Day #1, our head coach provided this feedback:

Wow, this is the best written award feedback I have ever seen! 
We were also extremely impressed by our judges, who asked insightful probing questions in the interview that demonstrated their interest and care.

Chairman’s Award submission 2022

Triple Helix is proud to publish this essay as part of our submission for the 2022 FIRST Robotics Competition Chairman’s Award.

Triple Helix has evolved to be a STEM leader in the Hampton Roads (HR) community, with the goals of enabling team sustainability, supporting the larger FIRST community, and spreading the message of FIRST.

BUILDING OUR FOUNDATION – TEAM SUSTAINABILITY

Our approach to team sustainability includes an emphasis on student leadership, strong recruitment, an open-door policy, and building a robust network of supporters in our community through our nonprofit organization, the Intentional Innovation Foundation (IIF).

Triple Helix mentors, parents, sponsor representatives, and other community stakeholders came together in 2015 to establish the all-volunteer public charity IIF to organize community support for Triple Helix, the Peninsula STEM Gym, and the Rumble in the Roads. Providing a stable financial structure for these initiatives, IIF enables us to serve a larger community by operating and sponsoring STEM education activities throughout HR, and opens the door to additional funding opportunities.

Prior to COVID, we addressed the team’s need for an influx of new students by conducting a number of outreach events at local schools, focusing on students who participated in FLL and FTC; we also held multiple open houses and participated in events at our school such as Back to School Night and the activities fair. After the pandemic, safety became our team’s top priority and our recruitment strategy evolved. We reached out to students that had participated on FLL teams that our team members had mentored; currently 80% of our new members came from these teams. Triple Helix is committed to providing an opportunity for all students to participate on an FRC team. We allow students to join who go to schools that do not have a team, as well as those who attend private schools or are homeschooled.

To address the need to retain students and develop student’s leadership skills, we have developed a new student presentation and have a detailed training plan for learning team equipment. The team has developed a structure based on students taking on a number of leadership positions.

There is an overall team captain and leaders for each of the sub-teams such as mechanical, electrical, programming, and scouting. In the last three years, due to their experience on Triple Helix, 100% of our team members have been accepted into a STEM degree program at institutions such as MIT, Rochester, Perdue, Virginia Tech, and UVA.

Triple Helix met the challenge of retaining students during COVID by pioneering the development of TORC, a design-build-fly drone competition within Triple Helix. In this program, we provided cinewhoop-class quadcopter kits to each student and adult team member who were empowered to grow their skills and bring their drones to life, while working within the bounds of protection measures. This virtual and limited in-person program enabled us to maintain a high level of student and mentor engagement through the pandemic, and positioned the team to perform to our potential in the 2021 Infinite Recharge At-Home Competition, where we placed 39th out of 1412 teams.

To recruit and retain mentors, we engage with local businesses and sponsors to raise awareness of Triple Helix and our strong program. Because we are a known leader in the STEM community, we attract FIRST alumni who want to return to the program as mentors. Over 40% of our current mentors participated in one or more FIRST programs as a student. We also benefit from the engagement and varied skillsets of the parents who fill roles from programming mentor to outreach and scouting mentor.

SUPPORTING FIRST PROGRAMS

Triple Helix focuses its efforts in the FIRST community on supporting and sustaining existing teams. Our widest-reaching effort is sharing best practices and lessons learned with the worldwide community via our impactful videos and publications. On our YouTube channel we post instructional design videos, robot demos, season logs, drive team development, and match videos. Examples of our Tech Tip videos include how to build bumpers and drivetrains, programming gamepad controllers, and pneumatic prototyping. This channel has accumulated over 1250 lifetime watch hours and nearly 60k views over the last two years. In addition, our website has a plethora of publications for teams to reference for team management and robot development; for example, our published budget provides insight on the inner administrative workings of an active FRC team. Triple Helix is also a leader in the wider FRC online community, including Chief Delphi, Github, and the FRC Discord; this year we have used these platforms to trailblaze new ideas in autonomous path planning and trajectory following for both differential-drive and swerve-drive robots.

Our primary regional outreach effort is our annual off-season competition, Rumble in the Roads, which we host with partner teams 1610 and 5957. The event attracts over 30 teams from VA, NC, and MD. The pre-season event gives teams the opportunity to test new designs, provides practice for the drive team, as well as the opportunity to interact with other teams in a more relaxed competitive environment. It also provides an incredible opportunity to network with local community leaders, sponsors, and judges who have included high school teachers, university professors, professional engineers, and senior executives of NASA Langley Research Center. To make the Rumble experience accessible to rookie teams, we often waive their competition fees.

Since 2018, we have maintained the Peninsula STEM Gym; a multifaceted collaborative workspace that caters to all levels of FIRST teams. Since opening, the facility has featured FRC practice space, FTC fields sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding, and a location for FLL teams to test and collaborate. Local FRC and FTC teams have used the space to test their robots at least 30 times since its establishment; the space also hosted a collaboration between a local FRC team and the Newport News Police Department (NNPD) on a robot for their shooting range. Triple Helix hosted an FLL Kickoff at the STEM Gym which gave local teams an opportunity to review the playing field, discuss robot design options, and talk to experts regarding their projects.. Triple Helix continued to keep the STEM Gym open as a socially-distanced meeting space for the local youth STEM competition community throughout COVID.

Triple Helix also provides targeted support to local teams based on their needs. We started a partnership with our school district’s STEM Department to deliver an organized mentoring program to multiple underserved schools, including FLL and FLL Jr. teams. When COVID hit, we transitioned to virtual mentoring, including two teams in Florida and Virginia, which went on to compete at their State Championships. We held FLL practice days and mock judging sessions to allow teams an opportunity to practice both judging and running their robot on the field. We started and coached two FLL Jr. teams at BC Charles Elementary School, and then ran an FLL Jr. Expo which allowed teams to showcase their work. On multiple occasions, we have hosted FLL teams at our shop and have provided them with tours and information, including inviting The Waffle Bunnies to practice their project presentation. This practice helped the team to earn a spot at the 2020 FIRST Championship.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

Triple Helix plays an active role in the local FIRST community. We participate in community demonstrations and sponsor-hosted events. The events vary from large such as the CNU Community STEM Day, showcasing our team and robot to over 4,000 visitors, to small such as Mad Science Night at Baron Elementary School. We have provided laptops and FLL mats for STEM events in the community, such as summer programming workshops for ESL, Refugee children, and a homeless shelter.

In 2019 Triple Helix began a novel collaboration with the Occupational Therapy (OT) doctoral program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to explore the intersection of rehabilitation & the maker movement. In 2019 and 2020, our team served under contract as a host organization for OT students who designed and executed capstone projects for completion of their doctorate. While embedded in the team for a semester, the VCU students participated in Triple Helix’s FRC build season as junior mentors, learning fabrication skills and the iterative engineering design process. Meanwhile, Triple Helix teammates worked alongside the OT students to design and build low-cost assistive technology for a diverse set of local clients. The collaboration has produced 5 ride-on toy cars for young children with mobility impairments, many switch-adapted toys to help children learn cause-effect relationships, a single-handed archery rig for a summer camp, and more examples which demonstrate the potential of youth STEM teams to rapidly produce custom, low cost devices which improve lives in our community.

Triple Helix values our sponsor relationships, and we’ve volunteered, networked, and celebrated alongside new and longtime sponsors at various events from dinner theatre, to airshows, to galas. We’ve also collaborated on a technical level with our sponsors; for example, parts designed and 3d printed by Triple Helix have been installed into a megascience experiment at sponsor Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

Giving back is an important part of the mission of Triple Helix. Triple Helix is a certifying organization of the President’s Volunteer Service Award to reward students who volunteer in support of our sponsors and community. In 2020, the team assisted the NNPD by weaving mats for the homeless out of plastic bags.

IT’S IN OUR GENES

Our efforts have truly been impactful to the team and our FIRST community. We really are “more than just robots.”

Triple Helix returns to flight with a FPV drone competition

As Triple Helix Robotics begins a new school year, our team leaders have been thinking about how we’ll accomplish the goals of the team– inspiring students with STEM– within the restrictions placed on us by the pandemic we’re all living through. In these slides, senior mentor Todd Ferrante explains the team’s current thinking in response to the continued public health crisis: this season, it’s up to us to create the spark of inspiration that will draw people– students and mentors– to participate in the team this year.

Triple Helix returns to flight by coming together to create the Tele Operated Robotics Competition– an internal tech challenge involving small bots which can be built by students at home and at the Peninsula STEM Gym, using the tools and techniques that are available to us.

Responding to the realities of the Coronavirus slide deck, last updated 28 Apr 2021

FPV Quad Build Guide slide deck, last updated 28 Apr 2021