by Danny Staple

I recently attended the Micromouse 2008 event at Millennium Point in Birmingham, so I could watch superb robots try their luck in the maze, and meet a number of other seasoned and not so seasoned robot builders.

About Micromouse

Micromouse robots are REAL robots. They are not remote controlled, and must come with all their own control circuitry, at least those beyond a certain cheeky number (well letter actually- Really Big D).

Micromouse has been running for a very long time, since around 1979, when the Amazing Micromouse Maze Contest was held. I last attended one when it was held during a Tomorrows World Megalab event in the NEC in Birmingham.

Micromouse is held once a year, although other similar events are held throughout the year. If you enjoy building robots, or simply want to meet with other robot builders, this event is highly recommended. It is even better if you turn up with a robot to try in the games, although I did not this time. You will be able to exchange tips and techniques as well as being able to test the robot in a pretty serious event.

The current event

UK Micromouse 2008 was hosted by Birmingham City University and ThinkTank, an interactive science museum with a regular robot club, and Lego Robolab events.

The maze itself was based on a large board with holes for pegs, and a system of pegs and walls used to construct the mazes. There was more than one maze - a maze designed for non-contact maze solvers, and a smaller, simpler maze for the contact followers.

Because this is a gathering of robot builders, a number of other competitions and side events, such as line following, drag races, walking robots, robot soccer, mini-sumo, walking robots and just general showcasing of robots gear take place too. There was also plenty of kit (ie oscilloscopes, soldering gear, multimeters, logic testers) for testing and debugging robots.

The mazes used a timing system that is based on infrared sensors to detect when the mouse has left the starting square, and when it has entered the goal area. This could be armed with a control board, and the numbers fed into a database system so they could be used to create scoreboards later. The system worked fairly well, although there were a few issues, and the automatic sensor triggers had to be turned off for a particular group of robots based on the same kit.

Among the most well known there is probably Professor Martin Smith, known for being a judge on robot wars and having built robots himself too. He lead the proceedings as the Master of ceremonies, gave commentary to the finals and was also quite good just to chat with - a very down to earth guy.

Also present was Chris Hills of Pheadrus Systems Ltd who normally works with real time embedded operating systems for control engineering applications, although at the event they were also flogging off a bunch of development boards at £15 or less. The chap also writes for Embedded Systems Engineering. He donated the development boards and kits that were awarded as prizes.

I will be following this up with a number of posts based on interviews, and less formal chats I had with some of the characters that attend this event, so read on for more!

I have also posted a photo gallery at Our Micromouse 2008 photo Gallery.

(paid links)