The 2015 National Schools and Colleges Micromouse competition took place on Saturday 27th June as part of the TechFest event at the Technology Innovation Centre in Birmingham.
The three strongest school-based teams, based on past performance, were back with the micromouses that they had been building, tuning and tweaking since the last competition. These were: Tendring Technology College Frinton; Claires Court School Maidenhead and Wycombe High School. Also making return appearances were pupils from King Edward VI School Stratford.
This year the organisers were pleased to welcome new attendees in the form of groups of juniors from Wilmcote School Stratford and a Birmingham-based home education group. The latter were using Lego Mindstorms kits to create line-following robots which they entered into the drag race competition and were amongst the youngest competitors ever to have competed in this event. The total number who registered to compete in the schools events this year was 19.
From a technical point of view, Tendring stood out as having had made the greatest advances with their improved line following variants. In the line-follower event, their mice stayed unerringly on the line and travelled at speeds faster than had been seen before by a schools entrant. In the drag race they comfortably recorded times under the magic 3 seconds in practice runs. We fully expect them to mount a serious challenge on the all-time drag race record of 1.6 seconds in the next year or two.
Competition started as usual with the Line Follower event. The 13 competing mice had to follow a 19mm wide white line on a black background for one lap employing optical sensors. A long challenging track had been set by the organisers with a tight turn leading to a crossover and a tricky ‘S’ bend. Nevertheless it was a fair test and most entrants managed at least one successful lap. Once again the pace was set by line following specialists Tendring Technology College with Joshua Clark and Toby Tweed’s joint entry, the supercharged mouse “Arno” posting an impressive lap time of 19.72 seconds. Two of the Claires Court mice Richard Hennessey’s “CC Crusher” and James Hope’s “Legoloverz” were performing very well, but in the end could not quite beat the 20 second barrier. Wycombe High showed great consistency but were just outside the top three taking 4th, 5th and 6th places. Overall the organisers were delighted with the effort the contestants had put into preparing their mice for what turned out to be the fastest and most competitive schools line following competition to date.
The next event was the ever popular drag race. In this event the competitors have to race against each other in twin lanes of a 7 metre long track tightly following a central 19mm white line then stop avoiding the end buffers 1.5 metres beyond the finish line. Each mouse recorded a qualifying time in the preliminary round so that a Wimbledon-type seeding could take place to ensure that the faster mice only competed against each other as the event reached its final stages. 12 mice took to the start line for qualifying with Tendring’s “Dohn” and “Dolly” then Wycombe High’s “Mao” registering the fastest times. As the knock-out part of the contest unfolded, some of the contestants felt the pressure of avoiding false starts, typically caused by anticipating the “Traffic light” start system. Nerves became frayed and stress levels rose alarmingly. There were the usual technical glitches with mice stalling on the start-line and, in one case, a mouse breaking up into several pieces halfway down the course! In the end the fastest qualifier “Dohn” operated by Daryl Hindle of Tendring was a worthy winner, recording the fastest time of the day at 2.874s in the quarter final. Runner up Wycombe High’s Katherine Smith with her mouse “Mao” did well to beat Jonah Pears’ potentially faster mouse “Dolly” into third place. It was one of the more keenly contested events of recent years and it is worth noting that his year’s times were, on average, nearly 2 seconds faster than last year’s.
The wall-follower event requires the most complex and specialised mouse and 9 mice from three schools contested the Schools event this year. Qualifying times were obtained in the half-size practice maze with the fastest five mice competing for the final place in the full-size senior maze in front of an appreciative audience. The path to the centre of a maze is negotiated by getting the mouse to sense and follow the left-hand wall and turn away from any walls immediately in front of the mouse as it negotiates the obstacles. The qualifying maze proved quite difficult and several mice that had been reliable back at school decided they did not like some of the wall geometries set by the organisers. The maze for the final had a path to the centre which was longer and even more tortuous than the qualifying maze. The qualifiers all reached the centre and the top three mice all finished with no touch penalties. Claires Court pupil James Hope won the event with his mouse “Legoloverz” his colleague Lewis Andrews came second with “Robotcop3” and third was Wycombe High pupil Georgia Ayew with “Mackintosh”. Only three seconds separated the first to third placed mice but all three would have comfortably beaten the winner of the adult class of this event which was held later in the day.
Once again we are indebted to the multi-tasking Duncan Louttit who ran all the Schools events, manufactured and donated the trophies and printed and presented the certificates. And finally thanks are due to the school staff and very supportive parents who accompanied the boys and girls to the competition and to Tony Wilcox and his team for providing us all with first class facilities.
Lightest Mouse: Three mice tied on 150g. Lewis Andrews’ “Robotcop3”, Oliver Walker’s “Monty6000” and Richard Hennessey’s CC Crusher, all of Claires Court School.
There was again little evidence that competitors had lightened their mice by drilling or filing off non-essential bits of wheels or non-load-bearing chassis parts. A lightened mouse usually performs better so it is well worth the effort.
Best Described Mouse: “E-nor-mouse”, Rosie Coward, Wycombe High School.
The Judges were delighted to have received six entries in this category. The competitors often spend the majority of their time on the construction and testing of their mice and neglect this important part of any project.
Rosie’s report on the construction of her entry “E-nor-mouse” contained a good balance of graphics and text. Each photo was accompanied by a paragraph or two of explanation in her own words. The report contained sufficient detail yet was presented in a concise and well-ordered manner.
For future reference, entrants should note that no credit is given by the judges for voluminous non-annotated program listings and anonymous internet downloads!
Judges’ Award 1: Hattie Trobridge, Wycombe High School
Hattie had a competitive mouse “Kami Mausu” which was well placed for a top three finish in the wall follower event until a tyre problem dashed her chances. The Judges felt that her perseverance in the face of this setback was highly commendable.
Judges’ Award 2: “Monty6000 built” by Oliver Walker of Claires Court.
His well-engineered mouse didn’t perform as hoped despite lots of effort.
Judges’ Award 3: “S & F” a pair of sumo robots built and demonstrated by Ben Moore of Tendring College. Ben also prepared a good report describing his robots.
1st Place: “Dohn”, Daryl Hindle, Tendring College. (3.174 seconds)
2nd Place: “Mao”, Katherine Smith, Wycombe High School. (3.685 seconds)
3rd Place: “Dolly”, Jonah Pears, Tendring College. (3.316 seconds)
Dolly fell apart in the semi final but was put back together in time to win the third/fourth playoff
1st Place: “Arno”, Joshua Clark & Toby Tweed, Tendring College. (19.72 seconds)
2nd Place: “CC Crusher”, Richard Hennessey, Claires Court. (21.48 seconds)
3rd Place: “Legoloverz”, James Hope, Claires Court. (22.31 seconds)
1st Place: “Legoloverz”, James Hope, Claires Court. (36.72 seconds)
2nd Place: “Robotcop3”, Lewis Andrews, Claires Court. (37.31 seconds)
3rd Place: “Macintosh”, Georgia Ayew, Wycombe High School. (39.28 seconds)