The micromouse contest has been around for some time now. You may be surprised at just how long there have been autonomous solvers of the problem. The modern contests began in the late 1970s and have run pretty much non-stop since. Possibly the earliest example though dates back to 1950.
Claude Shannon may be familiar to many readers. More likely, some of his notable work on information theory is the reason the name is familiar. In common with many gifted people, he had many interests beside those that paid his bills. He invented a number of devices. one of those is the ‘ultimate machine’. Perhaps you have seen one. It is no more than a box with a toggle switch on it. When the switch is operated, the lid opens and an arm emerges to turn it back off again. There are a lot of examples to look at.
More remarkably from our point of view, he made Shannon’s Mouse. This electromagnetic device used a relay-based computer to drive a magnetic mouse through a maze. It could find the goal and then run a path to the goal after being put down in any square. If it was put down in a place it had not explored before, it would search until it reached familiar territory and then make its way to the goal. In that regard, it is smarter than any mouse running today.
I have know something about Shannon’s mouse for a while but until Harjit Singh sent me a link, I had not seen it in action. The AT&T archive have a copy of a 1950 video where Claude Shannon himself demonstrates his mouse. Check it out: