The NeXT ImagiNeers are aiming for Mars, but they'll settle for the state FIRST LEGO League contest in Dayton.
The team of rookies from Indian Run and Wyandot Elementary schools that developed its name from the dream of visiting Mars is state bound.
"They'll be the first people to visit Mars one day. They'll get there through imagination," coach Rajiv Singhal said of the team name.
Although the name carries lofty goals for the team of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, they never expected to make it so far in their first year.
"I've never seen a rookie team of all elementary (students) go onto state," Singhal said.
His daughter, fourth-grader Ria, agreed.
"We did better than I thought we would," she said. "It was very unexpected."
"I thought we wouldn't make it to districts," Wyandot third-grader Aneetej Arora agreed. "That was a surprise for even coach."
But the team made it from their first competition in Grandview to regionals in Dublin where they earned a spot to compete with 30 other teams at state.
The rookie team was assisted by Rajiv's son, Manu Singhal, a member of the FIRST LEGO League team Moderately Confused that has made it to national competition and won a Global Innovation award.
As a freshman at Coffman High School, Manu Singhal is too old for FIRST LEGO League events, but helped the NeXT ImagiNeers out as a mentor.
Indian Run fourth-grader Sanjau Janardhan said programming the robot and keeping its actions consistent was a big challenge for him.
"(The) bowling (challenge) took a long time to get six pins," he said.
The robot also has to climb a ramp and balance on a platform for another challenge.
"I learned how to build a robot and what problems seniors face," fourth-grader Holland Max said of the season so far.
The team also had to complete a research project that included creating an invention to help make the life of senior citizens better.
Fourth-grader Siddharth Gadepalli said the team went through many ideas before deciding on the memory band that can be worn around the wrist and has facial recognition and an appointment calendar.
"We have two senior partners that face memory loss," he said. "They said there are more items to help with mobility than memory loss."
Until the Feb. 9-10 state contest in Dayton, the NeXT ImagiNeers will be working on programming and other league goals such as teamwork.
"They're making goals and posting everything," Coach Singhal said, pointing out a chart posted on his living room wall where the team practices.
The team is also working hard to improve its scores. Winners at the state competition will go to LEGOLAND in California or Germany for an international contest.
"I'd be happy if we did well, but I'd be even happier if we could go to Legoland or internationals," fifth-grader Rithika Nidimusali said.