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Knights, Triple Helix Find Success in Richmond
By: Amy Johnson

Power tools? Check. Costumes? Check. An arena full of super-excited, engineering-savvy teenagers? Definitely.

Sixty-three high school robotics teams, some traveling from as far away as Canada, competed in the FIRST Robotics Virginia Regional Tournament called LOGO Motion, April 8-9 at the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.

LOGO Motion involves building and programming a robot that can pick up inner tubes in the shapes of the FIRST logo and position them on pegs. The higher a tube is placed, the more points the team scores. For added difficulty, teams also were asked to build a "minibot" that could be deployed on a pole to climb to the top and come back down in under 10 seconds. Teams play in alliances and have to operate in both autonomous and manual modes.

FIRST Robotics, Richmond.
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NASA Knights team member David Holloway received a "Dean's List" award at the FIRST Rotobics Virginia Regional Tournament at Richmond. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Thursday was a practice day. Teams flooded the Siegel Center and set up work areas. Robots had to be inspected, worked on and ready to jam during practice rounds.

The energy was so high in the arena, you would have thought it was still March Madness.

Often referred to as the "varsity sports of the mind," FIRST Robotics can easily be compared to organized sports. Teams have uniforms. They hold practices. Everyone fills a unique role or "position," and they have competitions.

All the hard work begins in January when teams across the world receive their robot kits, complete with information about the current year's game. Teams then have six weeks to design, build and test their robotics as they prepare to compete in regional tournaments. The ultimate goal is to reach the national tournament, which is being held in St. Louis this year.

The NASA Knights from New Horizons Regional Education Center in Hampton, and Triple Helix from Menchville High School in Newport News walked into the Virginia Regional Tournament with successful resumes. Both teams, sponsored by NASA Langley, have already won accolades and are on their way to nationals.

FIRST Robotics, Richmond.
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In LOGO Motion, a team builds and programs a robot to pick up tubes and put them on pegs. The higher the peg, the more points the team scores. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Both teams walked out with success.

The Triple Helix won a silver medal for being finalists and after the qualification matches and were second seed with a record of 8-1. A team member, Michael Snider, won a prestigious "Dean's List Award."

"In addition to the silver medal, our team won the Industrial Design Award, sponsored by General Motors, for our tube gripper and elevator system," Wilbur said.

The NASA Knights won an "Excellence in Design" award, and one of their members, David Holloway, received a "Dean's List Award."

Those honors add to impressive resumes.

The Triple Helix won the South Carolina Regional tournament earlier this month, and the NASA Knights received the Chairman's Award at the Peachtree Regional at Duluth, Ga. The Chairman's Award is the highest honor given to a team, and the Knights have won it two years in a row.

"The South Carolina Regionals was a magical weekend for us," said Matt Willbur, Triple Helix's coach. "It gave us a lot of confidence going into the Virginia Regional tournament."

The Knights, clad in the silver boots, sparkling hats and blue glitter, can't be missed at regional tournaments. A cardboard castle complete with blue flags flanks their work area. Team coach Joanne Talmage even painted her nails to match.

After competing in FIRST for 14 years, the Knights are one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the area.

And now both teams are on their way to St. Louis.

The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
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