The Micromouse competition has been going on for 30 years or more but it's still exciting and intriguing to watch these "autonomouse" robots do their thing. Here's a video.
The 31st annual all-Japan competition has just finished and the winner is a very fast mouse - less than 5 seconds for the final run. You can see it in action in the video. It is very impressive and more so when you know what is going on.
This AI test started back in the 1970s with very simple devices. The idea is to run a maze in the shortest possible time. Each "mouse" has to fit into the maze which is quite small and they have to be completely autonomous.
The mouse first has to map the maze using a suitable search and optimisation algorithm. As well as simply finding a route to the center, the mouse usually explores the maze further to see if the route can be improved. After working out a route the mouse is set to re-run the maze as fast as possible.
The search algorithms used vary in sophistication from simple A* to dynamic programming but over the years the sad fact is that it is the fast mouse that generally wins rather than the smartest. To make the task more computationally interesting a new version of the competition has recently been introduced with a 32x32 maze rather than the classic 16x16.