TOWNSEND -- Robots may be nothing more than science fiction for most people.

But for students on the North Middlesex Regional High School Robotics Team, programming robots is just an average Tuesday afternoon task.

Two North Middlesex students and their advisor are traveling to Anaheim, California, later this month to compete in the VEX Robotics World Championship, a competition for which they have spent a year preparing.

The competition challenges students to build a robot that can lift and transport balls to different areas of a course. By attending six competitions over the course of the school year, the students have gradually refined their product.

At the regional tournament, they made it to the semi-finals, qualifying them for the world competition.

"It's sort of an ongoing process of building, seeing what works and what needs improvements," said senior Andre Imperiali, who also went to the VEX World Championship last year, where the North Middlesex team tied for second place in a field of about 420 teams.

Imperiali, who is planning to major in robotics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall, said returning to the competition for a second year in a row has given him a better understanding of how to improve the team's robot.

"You understand what works and what doesn't work, come up with new ideas, build off of those and perfect them," Imperiali said. "It's also a challenge to try to be unique. A lot of the robots look similar because people find something that works and stick with it. So if you're unique, you stand out.

Sophomore Jenny Pimm said she enjoys the process of improving previous versions of the machine and is looking forward to going to Anaheim to compete.

After her first competition, in which the team came in last, she said she spent hours researching ways to make the robot more successful. That hard work paid off, as the team continued to improve.

"It's really a challenge to try to make it work and test things," Pimm said.

Jim Landry, who teaches a robotics class at North Middlesex, serves as the group's adviser.

He said that he started the club as a way of expanding his students' opportunities in the robotics field.

"For the kids who are interested, it gives them an outlet, and the competitions give them a goal to work toward," Landry said.

The team is looking for sponsorships or donations from local businesses to defray the costs of traveling, registering for competitions and purchasing parts to build the robots.

Anyone interested in donating can contact Landry at jlandry@nmrsd.org.

Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.