The first micromice were mechanical. In 1972, the "Machine Design" magazine sponsored a contest in which spring-powered mice pitted their stamina against one another to see which could travel the longest distance down a racetrack. The first-placed "mousemobile" was one which travelled 825.3 feet.
In 1977, the IEEE Spectrum magazine, came up with the concept of a Micromouse - a small microprocessor-controlled robot vehicle imbued with the intelligence and capability to decipher and navigate a complicated maze. In May 1977, Spectrum announced the first US Amazing Micromouse Maze Contest to be held in June 1979, New York. Only 15 micromice competed out of 6,000 entries received. Some reported "brain failure" and others claimed mouse "blow-up". While interest was high, evidently, the design and construction of an intelligent Micromouse proved to be tougher than most has imagined.
In 1980, the European version of the contest was launched at the Euromice '80 in London but none of the 18 micromice managed to solve the maze. Among the spectators were delegates from the Japan Science Foundation who took the rules back to Tokyo and subsequently organised the first All-Japan Micromouse Contest.
In August 1985, Tsukuba, Japan, was the site of the First World Micromouse Contest Micromouse came from all over Europe and the USA, employing sensors ranging from infra-red to ultrasonic to CCD, and driving mechanisms from stepper motors to DC servo-motors. All the top prizes were clinched by the micromice from Japan with Noriko-1 emerging as the world champion.
At the 1987 World Micromouse Championship, hosted by the Institution of Electrical Engineers in London, 13 micromice competed for top honours. David Otten from the Massachussetts Institution of Technology (MIT), USA, captured the first and second prizes with his two entries, Mitee Mouse I and Mitee Mouse II. A new system of scoring was also adopted, designed to reward intelligence, efficiency of maze-solving and self-reliance of the Micromouse.
A council member of the Institution of Engineers Singapore (IES) came across a Micromouse in June 1986. He was so intrigued by the Micromouse and its high level of sophistication and challenge that he felt it was appropriate to promote a Micromouse contest at national level in Singapore, with IES as the main sponsor.
The 1st Singapore Micromouse Contest was held in October 1987. The winner of the contest, MIR3+ (from Nanyang Technological Institute), came in third at the 1988 IEE UK International Micromouse Contest held in London.
In July 1989, a larger Singapore team comprising winners of the 2nd Singapore Micromouse Contest went to the 1989 IEE UK International Micromouse Contest in London. The Singapore entries clinched 6 of the top 8 prizes. David Otten's Mittee Mouse III was relegated to 2nd place and Enterprise from UK took the 5th place.
On 21 October 1989, IES invited the top micromice from Australia, Japan, Taiwan, UK and the USA to participate in Singapore's first International Micromouse Competition. The USA and Taiwan mice were waiting to avenge their defeats by the Singapore Micromice in London in July. Spectators were captivated throughout the 3-hour contest by the speed and agility of all 13 micromice from both local and overseas entries. The fact that Singapore Micromouse took the top 2 places and the 4th, 5th and 7th places were beyond the expectations of many people.
The idea of introducing the Micromouse to schools and junior colleges was put forward to science teachers and principals at a seminar in March 1990. Soon after, 24 schools and junior colleges formed their own Micromouse clubs with the assistance of the Electronic Engineering Department of NP. One year after the seminar, the First Singapore Inter-School Micromouse Contest was organised and held in the Polytechnic.
Since the first US contest organised in 1977, there has been no turning back. Not only do the micromice get smarter and smarter year by year, but so do the maze designers.
The above article was published in Ngee Ann Polytechnic Newsletter in June 1991.
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