Latest complete CAD model of Genome Xi, the Triple Helix robot for the 2023 FIRST Robotics Competition game, Charged Up.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the last couple months we have welcomed several new students and adults who have checked out the team and shared in our projects. If you’ve been thinking about getting more involved, now is a great time to drop by and check out what we’re all about! The team is continuing to meet year-round, and so far this summer we have been investigating new drivetrain packaging, testing and repairing various electronics, doing training activities, participating in outreach and service events, collaborating with other teams, and more. Keep watching our meeting schedule at calendar.team2363.org to learn about opportunities to meet the team.
Good luck to our new alumni!
Last month, Triple Helix graduated two stellar senior students. As we move into the fall, we’d like to share our best wishes for these new alumni on their next adventures!
My retirement as head coach
I have decided to step down as the head coach of Triple Helix. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as the team’s main leader and I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished together:
- We founded the Rumble in the Roads, an offseason FRC tournament that places the energy and impact of competitive youth robotics right in a spot where it’s impossible for our fellow students, coworkers, neighbors, and friends NOT to see it and get inspired by it!
- We founded the Peninsula STEM Gym, a community practice space for competitive robotics, the only space of its kind within 300 miles.
- We kept the team competitive through various evolutions of the FRC program, including the switch to district play, the retirement of “bag and tag”, endless changes to the cost accounting rules, etc.
- We kept the team intact, and serving as a healthy escape, through the massive disruption of the global pandemic.
- We maintained an outstanding on-field performance– 2x winners of the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship, 5x qualified for the FIRST Championship, 3x invited to the prestigious Indiana Robotics Invitational, and over 30 trophies/medals/banners in official play over the last 8 seasons.
I owe a great deal of thanks to everyone who has contributed to these shared successes, especially my predecessor Matt Wilbur who crafted so many of the essential building blocks that Triple Helix has relied on.
I plan to continue serving as President of Intentional Innovation Foundation, the 501c3 nonprofit we founded in 2015 to organize a collection of youth STEM outreach efforts in Hampton Roads, but I will not be involved in day-to-day mentoring of the team. I continue to believe that FIRST and Triple Helix represent unparalleled opportunities for students, and will do what I can to stay involved in both while exploring other personal opportunities.
Please offer your support to the team’s new leadership
A group of three core mentors has stepped forward with the goal of keeping Triple Helix’s doors open– and maintaining it as a space where students can have transformative experiences in STEM. I have no doubt that, while there will be challenges, this group of mentors can succeed as long as they have your patience, appreciation, and support.
You can reach the Triple Helix leadership team at email@example.com.
Save the date – Rumble 8 – The Ocho
The 8th annual Rumble in the Roads, Hampton Roads’ unofficial offseason FRC tournament, is scheduled for Saturday, October 28, 2023 at Heritage High School in Newport News. Triple Helix is proud to help organize this event along with partners Blackwater Robotics and the NASA Knights. The volunteer registration for the event will open later this summer; stay tuned for more information!
President, Intentional Innovation Foundation
Former head coach, Triple Helix Robotics
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.
The 2023 FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas featured 619 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams from around the world, or approximately 18% of all active FRC teams. Attending the event as a competitor is a difficult, stressful endeavor for FRC team administrators and trip planners. This year, Triple Helix Robotics found a winning solution to the logistics challenge presented by the FIRST Championship. This writeup serves to summarize our unique approach to shipping our robot and pit equipment to and from the event.
Article (2,226 words, 11 minute estimated read time)
Next-level experience: Hampton Roads robotics team looks back on ‘most competitive’ season yet
By Gavin Stone
May 7, 2023 at 11:08 am
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.
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.”
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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?
- FIRST Chesapeake District – Blacksburg VA Event
- Captain of Alliance 1
- Autonomous Award
- FIRST Chesapeake District – Portsmouth VA Event
- Captain of Alliance 1
- Autonomous Award
- FIRST Chesapeake District Championship
- Captain of Alliance 2
- Innovation in Control Award
- FIRST Championship – Daly Division
- Second pick of Alliance 8
- Innovation in Control Award
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 (statbotics.io).
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 shares our heartfelt thanks for your incredible support of our record-breaking 2023 FIRST Robotics Competition season!
Late last night, the team returned from our trip to the international FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas, where we met over 600 other high school teams from all over the world for three days of celebration, community, and competition.
Undaunted by the scale of the event, Triple Helix continued to demonstrate high-powered robot performance on the CHARGED UP playing field, and easily secured a spot as one of the top scorers on the Daly field, named for American biochemist Marie Daly, the first African-American woman in the US to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Selected as the 9th overall pick for the Daly elimination tournament, Triple Helix fought hard and ultimately lost alongside partner teams 1477 Texas Torque from Conroe, TX; 3035 Droid Rage from Corpus Christi, TX; and our alliance captain, 6081 Digital Dislocators from Manchester, MI. This event caps off a season that saw Triple Helix ranked among the top 1% of teams worldwide.
The FIRST Championship event judges recognized our students’ pioneering work to develop a computer vision system which augments our existing “dead reckoning” localization methods (odometry and inertial navigation), resulting in an extremely precise estimate of our robot’s position on the playing field. This entirely student-led effort draws upon techniques used in academia and industry, represents a major level-up in our robot’s capabilities, and is completely open-source to the FRC community.
As we close out our 2023 FRC season and look forward to an exciting offseason, I would personally like to thank all of those in our extended network who have helped to make these experiences possible for our students. It’s not that long ago when FIRST first reached into my life and irreversibly set me on the path that I’m on today– enabling me to co-investigate challenging, unsolved problems alongside bona fide engineers from BAE Systems in Nashua, NH with FRC Team 166 Chop Shop, letting me explore some of my first engineering leadership experiences with 612 Chantilly Robotics, allowing me to see the other side of the equation as an alumni/college/young professional mentor of 122 NASA Knights, and finally giving me a chance to run a world-class team with 2363 Triple Helix Robotics. I am incredibly privileged, just like our students are incredibly privileged, to have been a part of this wonderful life-changing program and have benefited from your encouragement, advocacy, and sponsorship. It would not have been possible without you.
Dean Kamen, the founder of FIRST, likes to say that “Almost every robot will lose…” Triple Helix was certainly no exception– only 3 of the 624 robots competing this weekend found themselves underneath a shower of confetti, and 2363’s wasn’t one of them; it was already packed away for the long journey home. However, Kamen continues, “…but every student can win.“
Thank you– from the bottom of my heart– for believing in our program and our students. These wins are yours as well as ours.
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.
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