The pressure was incredibly intense yesterday for the Expert Class finals at the 31st All Japan Micromouse Robot Competition. The event, held once a year, is the longest continuously running micromouse competition in the world and draws top robot builders, and attention, from around the globe. In recent years the strongest competitors have flown in from Singapore and have managed to capture the top positions in this premier event. Characteristically, the “home team” crowd here has been very polite, respectful, and honored the overseas robot designers with accolades and admiration. But, at the same time, it has been easy to see that they have been anxious to recapture the top prize for Japan.
Last year they came within a hairs-breath of making that dream a reality. Kato-san, a young Japanese micromouse builder who also excels at designing top level line followers and half-size micromouse robots, almost managed to win the championship, but failed due to what turned out to be a fairly minor programming problem. Over the past 12 months Kato fine tuned and perfected his approach, and performed extremely well in the regional competitions leading up to yesterday's final. Micromouse fans, us included, have been closely following his progress. We don't know for sure whether or not the Japanese place any side-bets on robot competitions, but if they do, this particular event would have been the one to draw all the action.
Needless to say, all eyes were on Kato yesterday afternoon, and he certainly didn't disappoint the crowds.
The initial maze mapping run was absolutely perfect. His mouse does the mapping at a speed faster than many robots are able to achieve during their final speed runs. The only heart stopping moment was when Kato's robot paused for a bit towards the end of mapping run to digest all the data it had accumulated and calculate the optimum path. Even Kato was a bit concerned that something might have gone awry, as you can see in the video.
His first speed run of 4.942 seconds was strong, and would have captured the title in previous years. Heading back into the maze for the second speed run he set the bar even higher achieving 4.693 seconds. His final two attempts turned out to be a little too aggressive and resulted in high speed crashes, but in the end no other competitor could touch him.