Triple Helix Snags Second in First Robotics Competition of the Season

Triple Helix's robot for the 2017 competition season is the ninth in their Genome series of robots

Triple Helix's robot for the 2017 competition season is the ninth in their Genome series of robots

Laura Madler, Staff Writer

Menchville’s robotics team, Triple Helix, brought home a second place win after competing in the FIRST Robotics event on March 3rd-5th. This competition kicks off the FIRST Robotics Competition event season, with Triple Helix bringing home their first two awards of the 2017 season.

FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” is a non-profit organization that aims to get students involved in science and technology. FIRST Robotics was established in 1989, and it is now a major science and engineering program with members in 49 of the 50 U.S. states and 11 foreign countries. The league has robotics competitions for grades 1-12, each with new game challenges for the teams to face every year.

Every FIRST game challenge for the competition season is based on a theme, which this year is “Steamworks.” The object of the game is to power an “airship” tower in the middle of the competition floor where members of the team are stationed. In order to do this, there are two main functions the robots must perform. First, robots must be able to somehow get the balls of “fuel” into the “engine,” which would increase the power of the airship and help the team complete the challenge. Robots could get fuel through a hatch on the side of the engine, or, for more points, shoot the fuel into a funnel on the top of the engine. The airship also requires gears, which the robots must collect and deposit onto a peg at the base of the airship for team members to bring up and deposit in the right place to power the ship’s propellers and gain points. Robots should also be able to collect extra fuel on the ground and drop it at reload stations to be used in the engine again for more points. The first fifteen seconds of the competition round are completely programed, and the robots must function without human controllers. For the following two minutes and fifteen seconds, drivers control the robots from outside the walls of the competition floor. At the end of this time, the airship best prepared for flight with the most points wins. Two alliances compete in each round, and each alliance is made up of three individual high school teams. Qualification rounds continue until teams are chosen for the semifinals, and then for the final rounds.

Triple Helix advanced all the way to the finals round of the kickoff FIRST robotics competition. For the final round, the Menchville team was in an alliance with teams Cougar Robotics and RTR Robotics. This alliance played three rounds against the other finalist team- losing the first by just five points, tying the second, and losing the third for a second place alliance finish. Triple Helix still took home two awards, one as a District Event Finalist, and the other the Gracious Professionalism Award. By the end of the event, Menchville’s team was ranked number 7 overall out of the 39 individual teams competing in the competition.

When preparing for competition, the Menchville robotics team only has about a month and a half to design and construct their robot. The team receives a kit of materials from FIRST six weeks before the competition, but there are no instructions for building. Using the materials provided, Triple Helix designs a robot based on the requirements for the year’s game challenge, which is released in January. The Menchville robot this year, Genome Iota, is the ninth in the team’s Genome series of robots, which was started in the 2009 competition season.

Triple Helix formed in 2008 and remains the only FRC robotics team in Newport News. In its 9 years of competition, the Menchville team has competed and placed in several regional and district FIRST events. After taking a second place alliance win and a seventh place team ranking in the Chesapeake District’s Northern Virginia Event, Triple Helix will be competing again in the Hampton Roads Event sponsored by Newport News Shipbuilding. This competition will be at Churchland High School in Portsmouth from March 17th to the 19th.

To learn more about the Menchville Robotics team visit their website.