Sure, geneticists are making smarter rats with better memories, but can they run a maze in less than five seconds? The 30th All Japan Micromouse Competition late last year demonstrated some amazing robotic mice and their ability to solve a maze faster than their biological counterparts. The competition was huge: 80 micro mice ran the expert course and a whopping 117 faced off on the novice level. Most of these robots use LED lights and sensors to measure reflection off walls, allowing them to map the maze. Competition organizers intentionally make it difficult for the mice by using bright overhead lights and allowing flash photography. The fastest official run was 5.5 seconds, but check out the following video to see a 4.7 second run that puts the best to shame.
Each mouse is given five minutes and five starts to accomplish its best time through the maze. Most use the time to map the course first, then make the run.
The TETRA micromouse from Kato seen above was an early favorite, but it failed during the finals due to a mishap with the way it compensated for overhead lighting. The 4.7 seconds run isn’t even its best time for the maze. Below we see TETRA on the same course a few weeks later. The video shows the robot scan the course first. You can skip to 1:45 to see it race through in 4.6 seconds. Impressive.
The micromouse robots are so quick, that people have begun to record the trials at high speeds and view them in slow motion. Check out the following to see the better runs from the recent competition.
Solving a maze is one of those programming problems that have standard solutions but that everyone likes to try to improve upon. Its really amazing that the All Japan Micromouse Competition has been going on for decades and shows no signs of stopping. It will be interesting to see how the little mouse bots get better as electronic components continue to get cheaper, and more people join in the fun. Go get the cheese, little guys! Just don’t eat it as fast as you run the maze.
[photo credit: Robots Dreams]