THE CONCEPT OF MICROMOUSE
Mechanical mice were built with springs for a racing contest sponsored by the Machine Design magazine in 1972. But the concept of the Micromouse as a maze solving device was introduced by the IEEE Spectrum Magazine in 1977. Spectrum announced an Amazing Micromouse Maze Contest to be held in June 1979 in New-York.
6000 entries were received, but only 15 micromice competed. The winner was Moonlight Flash, a dumb wall follower mouse. The following contests rules would then be more sophisticated, so competitors would have a more difficult challenge in building more intelligent mice able to find the centre of the maze.
In 1980, the first European Competition took place in London. Among the 100 entries received, only 9 mice competed at the finals. This year, only Sterling, Nick Smith’s mouse, found the centre of the maze. Delegates from the Japan New Science Foundation took the rules back to Tokyo and organised the first All- Japan Micromouse Contest in November, but none of the mice solved the maze.
In 1981, a competition took place in Paris, with 13 competitors. Nick Smith’s Sterling Mouse won again, being the faster of the 8 mice to reach the centre of the maze. Dave Woodfield’s Thumper won the second UK contest in Wembley. Alan Dibley won the 1982 British edition with his Thezeus mice.
The first World Micromouse Competition was held in Tsubuka, in Japan, in August 1985, and was open to contestants from Europe and the USA. The mice were now becoming quite sophisticated, using infra-red or ultrasonic sensors, stepper or DC servo-motors… The champion this year was the Japanese Noriko-1, with the best non-Japanese contestant being Dave Woodfield’s Enterprise at the 7th position.
The 1987 edition was hosted by the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London, with 13 competitors. David Otten, from MIT, won the two first prizes with Mitee Mouse I and II. This year a new scoring was introduced to reward mice able to solve the maze completely independently: 10 seconds were deducted to the run time if the mouse was never touched from start to finish.
Singaporean Micromouse competitions started in 1987, sponsored by the IES, the Institution of Engineers of Singapore. In 1988, MIR3+ from Nanyang Technological Institute won third place, and in July 1989 in London, the Singaporean team got 6 of the top 8 prizes. David Otten’s Mitee Mouse III finished 2nd, while Dave Woodfield’s Enterprise came in 5th. The three best mice were within a half second of each other.
In October that same year, IES hosted their first International Micromouse Competition, and the local team once again won five of the top seven places against mice from the UK, the USA, Japan, Taiwan and Australia.
MICROMOUSE COMPETITIONS TODAY
In 1990, Micromouse clubs start to appear in schools. The championship rules were changed in 1991 for the World Championship of 1991 in Hong-Kong, to become the ones in use today that focus on reliability and not only pure speed. It was the largest international gathering of mice since Tsukuba in 1985, with 30 mice from 13 countries.
The 1992 IEE micromouse competition in London saw nine mice running, and the victory of Mitee Mouse III, even if the Canadian Louis Geoffrey’s Mouse Mobile II made the fastest run. In 1999, the Exeter University competition was the last one to be run by the IEE.
Royal Holloway organised their first event in 2000 in London, and mice now appear on TV for the BBC show Technogames. In 2001, the first Schools and Colleges competition is hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University. Since then, every year, a Micromouse event, a MINOS event (conference and competition hosted at Royal Holloway), a School and College competition at MMU and a Technogames filming show the success of Micromouse in the UK.
In 2004, for the first time, the national Micromouse championship is hosted at the Technology Innovation Centre, in Birmingham.