Mini-robot vehicles to compete in MicroMouse maze event

4/22/2011 - By: Mike Wolterbeek
Student working on MiniMaze. Electrical engineering undergraduate student Alexander Bajenov places the University of Nevada, Reno entry for the 2011 MicroMouse Competition into the maze for a practice run after altering the route through the maze. Photo by Mike Wolterbeek.

The amazing MicroMouse competition, in which a small robotic vehicle, or "mouse," finds its way through a complex maze by learning the fastest route, is coming to the University of Nevada, Reno campus Saturday.

The public is invited to watch the student teams from universities around the west battle with their custom-wheeled vehicles designed and built using their electrical engineering and programming skills.

The highly impressive and technologically advanced MicroMouse race is hosted by the University's electrical and biomedical engineering department as part of the spring conference for Region 6, Central Area of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. It begins at 1 p.m. in Room 109 of the Harry Reid Engineering Laboratory.

The micromouse is built with sensors, tiny motors for a drive system and a programmable computer chip for decision making to guide it as it moves through the twists and turns of the 12-foot-by-12-foot maze. The goal is to get the mouse from one corner of the maze to the center square in the fastest possible time.

"It's a highly complex autonomous robot," Mehdi Etezadi, chair of the electrical engineering department, said about the quick-moving mouse as it darted around the maze in a demonstration this week. "There is no remote control. Besides the sophisticated construction, it takes creative programming and control system skill so it can learn-as-it-goes to find its way to the center of the maze. Our student team has developed a super smart mouse. It's a contender."

The Nevada team of Alexander Bajenov and Eric Chalko spent months designing and building their palm-sized mouse.

"The mouse learns the route on its own and is programmed to map the maze and find the shortest path," Bajenov said. "It continues to find its way to the middle and has 10 minutes to find the best route."

Contestants are not permitted to know the layout of the maze prior to the beginning of the competition. The vehicle uses its multiple sensors and controllers, and the computer chip, to find and remember its way. The mouse may go through the maze multiple times within its allotted 10 minutes. The mouse's fastest time through the maze counts and the mouse with the fastest run time wins.

"We're very excited to be hosting this event," Etezadi said. "It's a great and fun opportunity for the community to see how students can put their skills into practice."

The event was held at Stanford University last year. Organizers expect participants from as far away as University of Hawaii, California State University, Fresno, Devry University Fremont, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Davis, California State University, Chico, Santa Clara, San Jose State University and Stanford University.

In addition to trying for the fastest time through the maze, contestants will be judged in a separate MicroMouse competition on audible noise, size and weight (smaller is better), thermal dissipation, power consumption, electromagnetic compatibility, reliability and product appearance and design.

Other competitions at the spring conference are the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Student Paper Contest and Student Design Project Contest, which offer undergraduate IEEE student members an opportunity to use and improve both written and verbal communication skills.



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