Everyone knows how seriously the Japanese take their robotics contests. The amount of engineering, attention, and probably money that they put into their competitive robots is amazing. One of the best examples is the 6 wheeled micromouse that is engineered like a race car.
The Man Behind The Robot Mouse
On the surface, Fumitaka Nakashima seems like a normal Japanese engineer in his 30’s from Aichi Prefecture, but when you dig a little deeper you find that his passion is to design, build and race competitive robots. He’s been an active micromouse participant going back to his high school days, and has built micromouse robots with several different design approaches including the older Mappy type with sensors that extended above the maze walls, and evolving through several different design approaches over the years, until finally, around 2003, he and Itani-san started seriously competing with the 6 wheeled micromouse design.
And, year on year, they have fine tuned the design and its software, until the robot performance is actually better than most race cars on a relative scale adjusted for their size. Not only do these robots run amazingly fast – they also run faster than most of their competitors during the search runs when they are just mapping the maze.
The Best Laid Plans of Micro-mice and Men
That’s not to say that they are the ultimate micromouse robots. In actual fact, Nakashima’s robot was beaten by Ng Beng Kiat’s micromouse design in the 2004 contest. Nakashima and Itani had great plans for a 1, 2 finish, but unfortunately Fate got in the way. Itani’s mouse, although it did extremely well in the first day’s contest, ran into problems during the final rounds and dropped way down in the standings. Nakashima had to be satisfied with the #2 slot.
The video link below shows Nakashima’s robot first searching the maze, then at the very end making it’s best speed run. You can see how fast and accurate it is, and decide for yourself how well engineered it really is.
Note: The 26th Annual All Japan Micromouse contest will be held in Tokyo on November 26th and 27th.
Video: Nakashima's Micromouse Runs 25th Annual All Japan Micromouse Contest, November, 2004 [Japanese – Robot Fan website]
Nakashima's Website [Japanese]
Robomedia: New Technology Website Information on micromouse and other robot events [English – note: the Japanese page has an ‘English’ link that doesn’t appear to be working yet]