'Half-Size' Micromouse Competitions


This is the 28th year that micromouse competitions have been annually held in Japan. The 2007 All Japan Micromouse event, scheduled for November 16-18, 2007 in Tsukuba, will follow basically the same structure and rules as past events. 

At the same time, the Japan New Technology Foundation Micromouse Committee wants to inject some additional energy and interest into the competitions, and has announced that both larger (real world size)  and smaller ('half-size') micromouse challenges will be staged in the future to complement the standard scale events.

We visited RT Corp in Akihabara yesterday afternoon to get a first hand look at the plans for the challenging half-size competitions.

In conjunction with the Japan New Technology Foundation and S.T.L. Corp, RT is one of the strong supporters of the half-size initiative, and has been staging demos at several of the regional Japanese micromouse competitions recently. They have confirmed plans to exhibit the half-size format, complete with working half-size micromouse robots at the 2007 International Robot Exhibition (IREX) here in Tokyo this November.

For anyone that isn't already familiar with IREX,  it is without question the largest commercial exhibition, conference, and trade show in the world. If it's robotic in nature, it will be there. The exhibition is held every other year, and we had an absolute blast at the 2005 event. Needless to say, we'll be covering this years exhibition here on Robots Dreams, so watch for our coverage immediately following the Thanksgiving holidays.

At first glance, the half-size maze looks exactly the same as the standard maze layout that has been in use pretty much since the sport was first conceived almost three decades ago in the U.S. But, after seeing it in person yesterday, we realized that the 'half-size' name is really somewhat misleading. 


For example, the maze layout has length and width dimensions that have been scaled down by half, but that results in a maze that is one quarter the area of the original. Perhaps we're being picky, but the actual size, and the implications, didn't really hit us until we saw the maze up close.


Although the micromouse regulations don't put strong limitations on the height of the robots, the change in scale, and the robots ability to support any type of vertical superstructure, implies that competitive entries will have to scale down in all three dimensions. That means that their linear dimensions will be half that of the conventional robots, their foot prints (area) will be one quarter size, and their effective volumes will be one eighth! We're tempted to suggest that the 'half-size' competition be renamed to 'eighth-size' since that seems to give a better feeling for the challenges involved.

It almost seems impossible, yet designing and building competitive robots for this new challenge is definitely do-able, even if it isn't easy. We've seen designs and a working robot that uses standard components and is capable of being expanded and modified by the user to add additional functionality and features. More on that soon. The half-size challenge won't appeal to everyone. After all the regular size is difficult enough for most of us. Nevertheless, it is generating a lot of interest and inspiring some builders to apply their skill and know-how. We're really looking forward to seeing what they can come up with.


Readers that pay close attention to detail, will recognize that RT Corp was the site featured in the last segment of the great Keepon/Spoon music video sponsored by Wired Magazine.


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