Micromouse Competition Has Gone to Extremes

The first Micromouse competition was announced in the May 1977 issue of IEEE Spectrum, “Announcing the Amazing Micro-Mouse Maze Contest” [PDF]. (The inexorable process of electro-murine evolution has since dropped the hyphen.) The idea is simple: build a completely autonomous mechanical mouse that explores a previously unknown maze, then runs it against the clock, with the fastest time winning. The competition got off to a slow start, given the state of microprocessor technology and sensors at the time, but has ramped up over the years, especially in Asia, with recent entrants running mazes in staggeringly short times. From lumbering dumb wall-followers, technology has advanced to machine vision and other sensors, while mechanical design and innovations such as fan-driven downforce allows the mice to accelerate at up to 2.5 g in a straight line and corner at 6 g. Algorithms have also improved over the years, with all serious competitors now able to explore diagonal paths and use techniques such as flood fill path planning.