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
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.
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.
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.
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, email@example.com
Newsletter: Triple Helix on fire! Six regular-season tournament wins in a row
This weekend in Portsmouth, Triple Helix Robotics steamed to another victory on the FRC playing field, captaining our alliance of three teams to bring home our 6th win in a row in official play. The team is now ranked #1 in Virginia, #1 in the Chesapeake District, #14 in the US, and #17 worldwide.
Triple Helix won the event alongside two alliance partners from Richmond: 5804 TORCH from the Collegiate School and, 539 Titan Robotics from Trinity Episcopal School.
The judges at the event also recognized Triple Helix with the Autonomous Award– our second such honor this season! Owed greatly to our high performance in the autonomous mode, our win-loss-tie record now stands at 31-5-0 for the season.
The team greatly appreciated the strong support of our parents and friends at this event– thanks to all the visitors who stopped by and wished us luck! We definitely needed it, as this event was by no means a cake walk. In addition to the exciting competition from several strong opponents, we struggled with a strange low-level software issue that sometimes caused our robot’s processor to reboot mid-match. This issue even appeared in our finals matchup against the powerful #2 seed alliance captained by 3136 ORCA and featuring the heavy-hitting cone scorer 1599 Circuitree.
The team will be working on stomping this bug– as well as continuing to reap the benefits of extensive practice with our robot at the Peninsula STEM Gym operated by Intentional Innovation Foundation– as we prepare for the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship on April 5-8 in Fairfax, VA.
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics
Standard software suite for team laptops
When setting up new laptops for the team, Triple Helix installs the following suite of programs.
- Clean install of Windows 10 or higher
- Google Chrome
FRC driver station laptops
Triple Helix strongly endorses WPILib’s Driver Station Best Practices guide for driver station laptops.
FRC software development laptops
All software required for an FRC driver station laptop, plus:
- Development environment essentials
- Clang, ClangD, and ClangD extension for VSCode
- Visual Studio Community for C++ simulation
- Networking utilities
- FRC Radio Configuration Utility for configuring robot radios for home use
- Angry IP Scanner
- PuTTY (example usage: networking with Beelink Mini PC)
- FRC vendor hardware clients
- REV Hardware Client
- CTRE Phoenix Framework and Phoenix Tuner
FRC mechanical design / CAD laptops
TORC development laptops
- Betaflight Configurator
Fillable double elimination bracket handout
Triple Helix coaches used this handout to track the team’s progression through the double-elimination-style playoff bracket at FIRST Robotics Competition events in 2023.
Newsletter: Triple Helix starts the competition season with a win in Blacksburg!
This weekend, Triple Helix Robotics traveled to Blacksburg for our first district qualifier event of the 2023 FIRST Robotics Competition season, and WON THE EVENT alongside partner teams 401, 1915, and 3373 against a field of 30 other contenders from VA, MD, and DC.
Our robot “Genome Xi” demonstrated reliable autonomous routines and highly polished teleoperated (student-driven) scoring throughout the event. In the qualification rounds, Triple Helix claimed an early lead and held onto our #1 ranking throughout the event, locking in our position as the captains of the #1 seed alliance.
Triple Helix was also awarded the Autonomous Award for our technical leadership in translating advanced control techniques into points scored on the playing field during real matches. The judges said:
The Autonomous Award sponsored by Ford celebrates the team that has demonstrated consistent, reliable, high-performance robot operation during autonomously managed actions. Evaluation is based on the robot’s ability to sense its surroundings, position itself or onboard mechanisms appropriately, and execute tasks. Their triple-performing play impressed the judges. This team consistently scored two cones in autonomous. Control theory is in their genes!
Our stunning performance in this qualifier event means that we are very likely to punch a ticket to the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA on April 6-8.
Fans of Triple Helix Robotics are invited to cheer us on at our next qualifier, at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, VA on March 18-19. The event is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. You can also watch the event steaming live at watch.team2363.org, and dive into our stats at thebluealliance.com/team/2363.
Thanks to FIRST Chesapeake, the host team FRC 401 Copperhead Robotics, a really stellar crew of Triple Helix parents, and all our wonderful sponsors for making this weekend’s experience possible! We could not do this without your steadfast support.
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics
Woodie Flowers submission 2023
Triple Helix students are proud to publish this Woodie Flowers Award nominating essay for our mentor Bill Bretton.
Bill Bretton, a Triple Helix mentor and parent since 2014, is a true inspiration to students who are interested in STEM. Armed with his technical skills and magnetic personality, he has inspired our entire team and sparked a passion for science and technology in countless students.
Bill ingrains a valuable sense of confidence in students that has helped propel many into careers in STEM. From the moment a new member walks in the door, Bill puts them to work on a project learning new skills. The tasks may be as simple as ferrule crimping, but these small efforts make every new student want to come back to the next meeting. He breaks down complex problems into simple language, so students always come away having learned something new and ready to solve new problems.
As the electrical subteam mentor, Bill helps our student team revolutionize our approach to electronics. When we identified a critical problem of batteries failing during matches, Bill taught students electrical engineering to develop an innovative battery logging system which could identify bad units before competitions even happened. In 2019, Bill spent the fall teaching the electrical subteam data analytics, which we used to develop a system for tracking what machining tools all team members were trained on.
As the leader of our pit crew, Bill helps students diagnose and repair mechanical and electrical failures quickly. At every competition, Bill writes key match and inspection information on our whiteboard, ensuring everyone in the pit is on the same page. Encouraging students to take time to assess the situation first and work around other issues students are fixing, he teaches teamwork and problem solving skills even in the heat of the moment.
Bill taught students how to give back to the community using their technical skills. In 2019 and 2020, Triple Helix took on the ambitious challenge of developing low-cost assistive technology for disabled children who were economically disadvantaged. Bill taught students how to rewire children’s ride-on cars, motorized toys, and buttons to produce assistive mobility and educational devices for kids in our local community.
When Bill’s own kids were in middle school he started an FLL team at a local middle school. This inspired many students to later join FTC and FRC teams and even pursue STEM in college. Bill has inspired us to be leaders, as said by our team captain: “I went from knowing little about electronics and programming to leading innovative projects in the FIRST community because Mr. Bretton has supported me from day one.”
If Triple Helix were a circuit, Bill Bretton would be the battery, providing the energy to power up his students and the spark to light up their futures in STEM. Bill’s memorable personality, charisma, empathy, and humorous approach to mentoring have changed all of our lives for the better. Our experiences with him will stay with us long after our journey as FRC students comes to an end.
Genome Xi (2023) BOM
While preparing a Bill of Materials is not required as part of the 2023 FIRST Robotics Competition game CHARGED UP, Triple Helix has prepared a partial one anyway for our 2023 robot Genome Xi. The BOM serves as a reference document for the team.
Genome Xi (2023) reveal video
Reveal video for Genome Xi, the Triple Helix robot for the 2023 FIRST Robotics Competition game, CHARGED UP.