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Robot Wars
Competition puts spotlight on STEM education
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Fennimores compact, efficient robot (left) was tough to beat in the Robot Wars competition held in the Fennimore High School gymnasium on Friday afternoon, Nov. 16. Fennimores team defeated Kickapoo, last years champion, and Barneveld and their behemoth robot (right). - photo by Robert Callahan photo

Robots took over Fennimore High School’s gymnasium on Friday afternoon, Nov. 16 during Robot Wars.
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College organized Robot Wars, a competition focused on STEM education. The STEM movement is a national initiative to teach science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on, project-based learning.
“It has been a great way for us to recruit,” said Scott Swan, the college’s Engineering Technologist program instructor. “Engineering Technologist is nearly a brand new program.”
Students in the Engineering Technologist program learn various skills, including Computer Automated Design (CAD), Computer Numerical Control machining (CNC), Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) and CAD-CAM.
Students learn the planning, setup, monitoring, analyzing and controlling of integrated systems in order to improve efficiencies in a manufacturing environment, standardize and streamline processes, and initiate cost savings for businesses, according to the college’s website.
“With all of these skills, the students can get jobs in an automation manufacturing setting,” Swan explained.
The college also offers a CNC setup/operator course, which is a one semester course that awards students a diploma.
“We can get you in the job market quickly, but you are going to be a CNC setup/operator,” Swan said. “Or you can continue on after earning the diploma and become an engineering technologist, which gives you flexibility for a career.”
Twenty-five students are enrolled in the Engineering Technologist course this semester. The college’s first Engineering Technologist class graduated in May.
“This is a ‘do’ class, this is not taking tests,” Swan said. “You machine things, you draw things, you CAD-CAM things, it is all about accomplishing things, instead of just talking about it.
“We don’t just talk about it, we do it. When our students get out in the job world, they hit the ground running. Employers love our students.”
The college provided each of the nine participating Robot Wars teams, including the Fennimore High School squad, with a Vex Robotics kit earlier this month.
“They get a box of a thousand parts and try to dream up a design,” Swan explained.
Once the kit is received, the teams are asked to study the parts and create a remote controlled robot with the ability to move quickly, lift and elevate with the goal of moving foam balls to the opposing team’s field to collect points.
Robot Wars takes place in an 8’ x 8’ field, with a dividing wall in the center. One robot is placed on each side of the field with 12, 4’’ foam soccer balls and six foam footballs. The goal of each team is to put as many balls onto their opponent’s side of the field as possible in a two-minute match.
Fennimore’s team began building their robot approximately a week prior to Friday’s competition, said Technology Education instructor Cory Bussan.
Fennimore’s Hans Heberlein, Brandon Hall, Tyler Heisz, Tory Fuerstenberg, Kane Klais and Ben Handfelt all had a hand in creating the robot.
“There is a lot of strategy involved in this,” Swan said. “There is a lot of practice and there is a lot of thinking.”
Fennimore, Kickapoo and Barneveld battled in Friday’s Robot Wars. Lancaster was scheduled to participate but did not attend.
Fennimore took two matches from Barneveld in a best-of-three series to win the first competition of the day.
“That was one of the best matches I have ever seen,” Swan said of the first Fennimore-Barneveld match.
Fennimore also swept Kickapoo, 2-0, to win the second competition of the day.
With a first place finish, Fennimore advanced to the Robot Wars finals, to be held at the Southwest Wisconsin Technical College campus on Wednesday, Dec. 5.
Heberlein maneuvered Fennimore’s robot throughout the “Swept Away” field with a remote control.
“Hans did a really outstanding job,” Bussan said. “The whole team worked well together at the end.
“They had fun. That is the main thing.”

Jessica Helms, Southwest Tech Marketing and Public Relations Assistant, contributed to this report.