Newsletter: Triple Helix summer update

Recent Triple Helix graduates Joshua N. and Justin B. present to NASA Langley Research Center employees at a recent Lunch & Learn event organized by the Center’s two “house FRC teams” NASA Knights and Triple Helix.

New faces
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 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

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!

Nate Laverdure
President, Intentional Innovation Foundation
Former head coach, Triple Helix Robotics

Newsletter: Triple Helix returns home from the FIRST Championship with stories, trophies, and thanks

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.


Newsletter: Triple Helix, your FIRST Chesapeake Champions, are heading to Worlds

This weekend, Triple Helix Robotics successfully defended our title as Champions of the FIRST Chesapeake District and have received an invite to compete at the World Championship in Houston, Texas!

Triple Helix won the three-day District Championship event in Fairfax, Virginia, alongside our alliance partners FRC 1731 Fresta Valley Robotics Club from Warrenton, VA and FRC 2199 Robo-Lions from Finksburg, MD. The event featured the top 60 high school FRC teams from Virginia, Maryland, and DC. Over 135 matches were played to determine the winning alliance.

In our third elimination match, the 2nd-seeded 2363 – 1731 – 2199 alliance scored every available game piece and racked up an incredible 191 points, matching the world record high score for that phase of the tournament, and just shy of the maximum possible score of 193.

Triple Helix’s performance this year has qualified us to compete at the FIRST Championship, a post-season exposition of 600 high-performing teams from around the world. You can help us get to Worlds by contributing to our GoFundMe campaign at; your support will help offset the team’s transportation costs and is greatly appreciated.

The judge panel at the District Championship also recognized Triple Helix with the Innovation in Control Award, which celebrates innovative control techniques to achieve gameplay functions. Our controls innovations are the result of an intentional, multi-year, student-driven campaign to improve our understanding of autonomous navigation and computer vision processing, and it’s through those student accomplishments that we’ve been able to capitalize on these developments to greatly enhance our competitiveness on the FRC playing field.

An enormous thank you to all who’ve made our 2023 season so successful– especially our sponsors and donors large & small as well as our mentors, families, and friends. Long-term competitiveness in this program depends so heavily on sense of community… dense networks of support… teams of teams of teams. We could not do it without you on our team. Thank you!

Nate Laverdure
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics

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.

Nate Laverdure
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics

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.

[The winning alliance of four teams. Courtesy of 401.]

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.

[Average points scored in auto + endgame (Y axis) and teleop (X axis) by all FRC teams worldwide as of the end of Week 1 of competition season. Via]

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, and dive into our stats at

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.

Nate Laverdure
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics

Newsletter: Triple Helix Robotics is playing CHARGED UP

Happy new year!

Triple Helix is playing CHARGED UP
This FIRST Robotics Competition season, Triple Helix is playing “CHARGED UP”, a pick & place-style game featuring two different game pieces (perfectly colored– purple and yellow!!) which must be scored in a large array at the near end of the field. For bonus points, we must balance our robot on a teeter-totter… both autonomously and while under driver control.

Today the team met for Part I of our game analysis and strategic design discussion. This year’s game looks challenging, with several new shapes of objects to manipulate, some tricky strategic tradeoffs, and a nailbiting endgame. It should be a fun game to watch and play.

Field construction at the Peninsula STEM Gym is underway
At our shared robotics practice facility, we are preparing to build full-scale wooden mockups of the field elements. We can still use additional construction help, which requires only basic woodworking skills. Please join us in the #stemgym channel on our team Slack to learn more.

We’ve locked in our event schedule
Triple Helix aims to compete at up to four FRC events this spring. Hope to see you there as a spectator or a volunteer!

– March 3-5: FIRST Chesapeake District Blacksburg VA event
– March 17-19: FIRST Chesapeake District Portsmouth VA event
– April 6-8: FIRST Chesapeake District Championship, EagleBank Arena, George Mason University, Fairfax VA
– April 19-22: FIRST Championship, Houston TX

Thank you to all our wonderful sponsors!
The team greatly appreciates your support!

Newsletter: Triple Helix: semifinalists in WV endurance robot tournament

Last weekend, the Triple Helix Robotics team traveled to Morgantown, WV, where we competed in a field of 24 teams in an 26-hour overnight competition.

WVROX, “the world’s first and only FIRST Robotics Competition endurance event”, is held every two years at West Virginia University and is hosted by fellow NASA house team 2614 MARS.

Photo credit: Sanjay (FRC 4099)

In this challenging event, Triple Helix racked up 18 match wins and finished the event as semifinalists and captains of the 3rd-ranked alliance alongside our alliance partners teams 48 and 2656.

The team has now played well over 100 Rapid React matches– one of our busiest seasons ever. And it’s not done yet! We look forward to playing additional offseason events this fall, including the one we are co-hosting– the 7th annual Rumble in the Roads on Saturday, November 5 at Menchville High School.

We’re also well into our recruiting season for the upcoming school year, and we welcome any prospective new students and mentors to drop by any upcoming meeting to meet the team and learn about how to get involved.

Thanks for your support!

Newsletter: Triple Helix Robotics – quarterfinalists at IRI!

This summer, Menchville High School’s award-winning Triple Helix robotics team travels to two high-profile offseason tournaments where we compete (for fun and bragging rights) on a national stage against many of the world’s top teams.

These events are similar (in size, scope, schedule, budget, etc.) to our own “Rumble in the Roads”, a fall FRC offseason tournament that Triple Helix co-hosts alongside our friends 1610 Blackwater Robotics. This fall, the 7th annual Rumble will be held at Menchville High School on Saturday November 5.

Indiana Robotics Invitational (IRI)

Last weekend, we traveled to the prestigious Indiana Robotics Invitational, a 48 team tournament held over 2 days in Columbus, Indiana.

After successfully debugging a tricky networking problem on the evening of load-in, Triple Helix managed to squeeze out 7 wins in our first 11 qualification matches, demonstrating our robot’s ability to quickly cycle game pieces into the large central goal and, right at the end of each match, quickly hang on the “mid” bar for some critical extra bonus points.

Check out this 10-minute summary of the IRI by FIRST Updates Now!

Triple Helix was selected as the 4th and final member of the 4th-seeded alliance alongside world-renowned partners:

  • 195 CyberKnights from Southington, CT
  • 67 The HOT Team from Highland, MI
  • 2539 Krypton Cougars from Palmyra, PA

Our 4th seeded alliance paired up against an extremely strong 5th seed in the first round of the playoffs (a best of 3 series), and ultimately lost to them in our 3rd and final match of the event.

This success — 

  • to receive an invite to this amazing event
  • to be able to go
  • to put up a winning record in qualifying rounds
  • to be asked to join a playoff alliance
  • for our robot to touch the carpet and put points on the scoreboard in the elimination rounds

— represents the culmination of an amazing 2022 season for Triple Helix and is a massive honor for our team.

West Virginia Robotics Xtreme (WVRoX)

In 2 weeks, Triple Helix travels to Morgantown WV where we will play at WVRoX, a 26-hour overnight endurance competition.  We are really excited to play over 30 matches in a field of 24 great teams…

Check out this 1-minute teaser for the event!

Follow along

Our fans can follow along as we play at these events by monitoring

Also, while we’re at an event, the link should take you directly to a live stream of our matches.

Thanks for your support!

Newsletter: Triple Helix wins the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship

Yesterday evening, our Triple Helix robotics team was crowned winners of the FIRST Chesapeake District Championship held at the Hampton Coliseum, having competed against the 60 highest-ranked high school FIRST Robotics Competition teams in Virginia, Maryland, and DC.

Photo courtesy of Zach Clarke

Our #1 seeded alliance was captained by the RoboBees of Hollywood, MD and joined by partner team 620 Warbots of Vienna, VA. We didn’t have an easy path to victory– the playoff rounds of this event were the most nerve-wracking matches I have ever experienced in my 20 years of FRC.

Triple Helix finishes our 2022 regular season: 

  • ranked #2 out of over 100 teams in our 3-state region,
  • with a W-L-T record of 55-4-3,
  • having acquired 4 of those precious blue “WINNER” banners (something only 3 other teams worldwide have done so far!), and
  • having faced off against our friends 1610 an unfortunate (and perhaps record breaking?) 3 times in the final rounds of a tournament

In addition to our outstanding performance as a team, our team members were recognized individually as well:

  • Our lead programming student (and at this event, our human player!) Joshua Nichols was selected as one of the three Dean’s List Finalists to represent FIRST Chesapeake on the world level. We’re so incredibly proud of Josh and the work he has done over a period of 9+ years to not only increase visibility and respect for STEM in his community, but also to create real STEM exploration opportunities for those who need it. Read our nominating essay, written by the team mentors, here.
  • Our mentor Chris Garrity was recognized as one of the mentors nominated for the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award, which celebrates effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design. Chris is not only a core mentor for Triple Helix but he’s also a reliable event volunteer who makes our competition season possible. Read our nominating essay, written by the team students, here.

There are so many amazing stories to share from this event and from this season. Stories about struggle, sacrifice, mistakes, bad fortune, good fortune, commitment, skill, resilience, and reward. Our team members will carry these experiences with them for the rest of their lives.

Sometimes in this community we hear the phrases “More than robots” and “It’s not about the robot” and even “This isn’t a robot”. These things certainly capture a great realization– that our program is about using the robot to build better people, not about using people to build better robots. But if you jump directly to this logical endpoint, and you don’t come to it after first falling for the Randy Pausch-style “head fake”, I worry that the big impact of this realization can be lost. I warn people from taking this shortcut, because I’ve felt that it’s so much more rewarding if you take the longer road to understanding. This is why, as a team, we can take the attitude that It Is About The Robot… it’s because “the robot” is enough. “The robot” can encapsulate all of the things– the hard-won lessons about sportsmanship, perseverance, honesty, ability, and being a member of a team. The head fake is important; “the robot” is important.

On all of those intertwined levels of understanding– man, our team’s robot this year has been a really great one.

We cannot be more grateful to our entire network of stakeholders for what they do to enable our success. I hope that every parent, sponsor, school administrator, alumni, and friend of the team who receives this message can feel they share in our victory. Your belief in our mission, and your partnership, is essential. Thank you.

The team is taking a couple days off. On Tuesday, our post-season starts. We’d really like you to be a part of it!

Nate Laverdure
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics

Newsletter: Triple Helix Robotics now 3x winners in Colonial Heights

This weekend, Triple Helix once again traveled to the Keystone Tractor Museum where we participated in two complete single-day tournaments with 18 different teams each day.  Both Saturday and Sunday contained the full experience of a traditional 2-3 FRC tournament, including travel to and from home, passing initial inspection with our robot, climbing (and falling) in the ranking throughout the competition rounds, forming a competitive alliance for the elimination rounds using insights from match scouting, and vying for ultimate victory as an alliance in the playoffs.

On Saturday, the team found victory alongside partner teams SPARKY 384 from Henrico and Imperial Robotics team 4286 from Mechanicsville. Triple Helix was ranked #1 at the conclusion of qualification rounds and captained the #1 seed alliance. Triple Helix went undefeated in this event– an amazing accomplishment.

On Sunday, the level of competition was much higher. We had been carrying an amazing 27-match win streak until it was broken late in the qualifying rounds by a loss to our future alliance captain, team 401 Copperhead Robotics from Christiansburg VA. Triple Helix joined 401 and our 3rd partner team 7429 Convergence for a fight to the finals, where we won against our good friends at team 1610 in a series of 2 tough matches.

We have truly found world-class performance this year. By several metrics we are among the top 10 teams internationally.

With 38 official match wins already under our belt, we now set our sights squarely on the District Championship.  We invite all our friends and supporters to join us at the event, which is open to the public on Friday and Saturday April 8-9.  More information about the event can be found at

Nate Laverdure
Head coach, Triple Helix Robotics