For a small group of Worthington elementary school students, what began as a hobby and a pilot program has become a chance to compete in a nationwide contest.
The Granby Elementary School robotics team was formed this year after the school's coding club went defunct.
Librarian Anastasia Mayberry, who serves as the robotics team's coach, said the group consists of students who were the most enthusiastic about the coding club when it existed.
"Some kids would sign up and never show up," she said. "These kids were always there."
The team has four members: Eli Krauss, 12; Ruby Nicoll, 11; Wyatt Slack, 11; and Mallory Tonn, 11. All are sixth-graders.
Modeled after a series of lessons and challenges designed by California-based robotics startup Wonder Workshop, the team works together to program and design one of two robots – which they've named Mercury and Pluto – to complete various tasks.
Most tasks involve three ping-pong balls, which students must move around a grid while avoiding obstacles.
"It's pretty basic, but not at the same time," Eli said.
The challenges might seem simple, but the coding and planning that go into them are more difficult than they seem.
"Usually people think we just have little robots that go, 'Beep, boop, bop,' " Mallory said.
"But it's a lot more," Wyatt added.
Sometimes, the challenges come easily to the students. Other times, Mayberry encourages them to forget about a project for a couple of days.
Often, when they return to the task, she said, they complete it in just a few minutes.
Mayberry readily admits she's not a programmer and the students are "already much better than me," but her goal is mostly to stay out of the way of the "student-led" program.
"The coach's job is basically to not intervene," she said.
From September to February, the team worked on three missions created by Wonder Workshop for the company's international Wonder League Robotics Competition.
In late February, they found out that their submissions had been chosen as a finalist, making it to the final round of the competition with just 128 other teams worldwide.
If the team can make it into the top five overall, each member would receive their own robot.
If they can win the grand prize, Granby would receive a $5,000 grant.
The group already has exceeded expectations, and its four members said they're hoping other students will become interested and make the team a legacy at Granby. The plan, they said, is to come back after school to help the new students next year when they've moved on to McCord Middle School next door.
And whether they can bring home the prize or not, they said, they already have come a long way.
"I think we complement each other really well," Mallory said. "When we're working on the robot, we're all working together, not for ourselves."