Vermillion Area Robotics Club has one of the best teams in the world

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VERMILLION, S.D. (KSFY) - The Vermillion Area Robotics Club has members from all over southeastern South Dakota from elementary school to high school -- and recently one of its teams got a world-high mark.

The kids are making learning about technology, computer programming and engineering priority in their free time.

VARC participates in a program by VEX, the program hosts competitions throughout the years.

"There's competitions that run six, seven, eight months and so the kids have the ability to continuously re-engineer their designs over and over rather than just one competition where they bring the robots," Susan Rolfes, the team's coach, said.

The VARC teams spend eight to nine hours a week -- outside of school -- perfecting their robots ... so when do they finish?

"It will never be fully ready," Roger Rolfes, a member of the high school team said. "We're always testing and revising and re-doing things."

And it's all for a game. The teams come up with strategies, much like any sport would, then they build their robots.

The high school team's main robot picks up cone-like objects called "mobile bowls" and stacks them. The goal? To stack as many mobile bowls as quickly as possible, and in stacks as tall as possible, in just one minute.

"The main thing is -- it's screws and bolts and metal -- so it sounds a lot harder than it is," Roger Rolfes said. "A lot of times you gotta just do it. The more you do it the better you get."

The school team got a world high mark at a competition in Omaha with that very robot back on Jan. 6. They've since been dethroned and dropped into fourth place in the world, but are hoping to regain the top spot in another competition soon.

Now they're working on programming a robot that doesn't even use a controller.

"Will's [another team member] working on programming skills, which will make the robot run around and grab mobile bowls all autonomously based on what Will has coded in 'Robot C,'" Rogers Rolfes said.

And not just the high schoolers are thinking outside of the box. The middle school team has a member with a working, autonomous robot, and the elementary school team is also just as advanced.

"It is a three-conveyor, two-motor drive, so how it works is we'll go and pick up rings along the side of the field," Henry Anderson, a member of the middle school team said. "And our robot can also go sideways."

While it's all fun and games for the kids, they're learning technical engineering and computer programming skills they can carry through life.

"We do follow a formal engineering process and try to make sure they follow our their timelines," Susan Rolfes said. "It gives kids the ability to analytically troubleshoot, brainstorm, think outside the box ..."

"A lot times in school you're conforming to the same answer for every problem," she said. "It teaches you a lot of teamwork skills that'll be beneficial no matter what they decide to do in the future."

The VARC Vex IQ teams are hosting their own competition for the first time in Vermillion at the Sanford Coyote Center at USD on Saturday.

For more details you can visit the VARC website. We've put a link under "related links."