Techfest 2016 Schools micromouse contest

The 2016 National Schools and Colleges Micromouse competition took place on Saturday 25th June hosted by Birmingham City University as part of the TechFest event. We had a change of venue this year and were accommodated in the modern and spacious facilities of the newly built Curzon building on the BCU City Centre Campus.

A new record number of 29 mice were registered, beating the 27 recorded in 2014. Regular entrants Claires Court School Maidenhead, King Edward VI School Stratford, Tendring Technology College Frinton and Wycombe High School Buckinghamshire were all once again represented in good numbers. New to the competition this year were the Warriors of High Wycombe. This is a group of robot-building enthusiasts who come from different schools and range in age from Year 9 to lower 6th. They meet every Tuesday evening and have already shown a competitive edge in a micromouse-style contest in March.

Kit Mice

Many of the mice entered this year were made to the same design. Although this would suggest that they would all perform identically in each event, the positioning of sensors and the tweaking of parameters controlling the manoeuvres in the on-board microcontroller were down to the individual mouse owner. Barring mechanical or electronic failures, the better performing mice in each event reflected the diligence of the owner.

After sounding out regular entrants, the Judges decided that instead of awarding certificates to those placed in the top three, they would award a medal to each competitor who successfully completed in an event with no fouls or penalties. A straw poll amongst the attendees confirmed that it was a popular move and it will be continued in future years. The now traditional “Micro mousetrap” trophies produced and donated by Swallow Systems will continue to be awarded for those placed First, Second or Third in each of the three schools events.

Tendring Technology College once again impressed the Judges with their ongoing programme of improvement, innovation and original design. “Purdy Pie”, the winning line following mouse produced by Kaycie Fraser was 17% faster than next best mouse, a huge advance in standard for that event.

Line Followers

The competition kicked off with the line follower event with a record entry of 25 mice. The layout of the track is always different each year and is only decided by the organisers on the day of competition. This year we had an admittedly mouse-friendly layout with no 180 degree bends and only one crossover to negotiate. This resulted in fast times and very few mice failed to get at least one good run in from the three attempts permitted. The organisers were delighted to note some real innovation from Ben Moore of Tendring who entered a pair of line followers with tracks instead of wheels. Both successfully completed the course. Kaycie’s “Purdy Pie” romped home setting the only sub 10 second lap time but the next-placed 17 mice finished within 2.3 seconds of each other. For the first time the Judges can recall, there was a tie for second place with Warrior Lasen Wanni-Arachenige’s “Tobor” and Tendring student David Cox’s “Arno” dead heating on 10.99. A total of 23 medals were awarded for successful course completion.

Drag Race

The drag race was next on the schedule. In this event the competitors have to race against each other in twin lanes of a 7 metre long track tightly following a central white line then stop before hitting the end buffers 1 metre beyond the finish line. Reaction time as the starting lights changed from amber to green was highly significant and, in many cases, accounted for more than 10% of the run time. Five successful runs are needed to win this event so fast mice operating on the edge can be beaten by slower, more reliable mice – a classic “tortoise and hare” scenario. The entrants were all given up to three opportunities to record a qualifying time so the mice could be seeded for the knock-out phase. Top qualifier was Tendring’s “Speedy Gonzales”, a joint effort by Daryl Hindle and William Black, which blazed down the track in 2.019 seconds. Only one other mouse broke the 3 second barrier – Wycombe High School pupil Daisy Redrup’s “Ventura” which produced its best ever time of 2.803 seconds. As the event unfolded, and in contrast to the line follower event, reliability was noticeably down on previous years with many otherwise competitive mice hitting the side walls or failing to stop before hitting the buffers at the end of the track. “Speedy Gonzales” crashed out before the final which was eventually contested by “Ventura” and another WHS mouse “Mad Max” entered by Pehrr Ramrakhyani. “Ventura” came out on top with “Mad Max” just as fast but unfortunately crashing and incurring a time penalty. The third place play off was won by another WHS pupil Kat Smith whose 750 gram monster “Laoshu” was notable for being 5 times heavier than any other mouse in the contest. Eight medals were awarded for successful course completion.

Wall Followers

The wall follower was the final event of the day. As has been the procedure for several years, all mice entering were given three runs in the maze to produce the top six finalists who would compete for the three trophies.
The top performers in the qualification maze were:
1. “Bruce”, Henry Tate, Claires Court, 21.69s
2. “The Luggage”, Alex Beam, Warriors, 21.73s
3. “Alfyiz”, Rahaf Mohamed, Wycombe High School, 22.00s
4. ”Blitz”, Anna Kate Fischer, Wycombe High School, 22.75s
5. “Tobor”, Lasen Wanni-Arachenige, Warriors, 23.86s
6. “Nano pig”, Alexander Fairley, Claires Court, 23.94s
With Henry’s “Bruce” favourite for the top spot in the final, Alex made the brave decision to tweak the settings on his mouse “The Luggage” to pull back the 0.04 second deficit. Last minute changes rarely produce the intended improvement and Alex dropped a further place to third in the final. Rahaf left her mouse “Alfyiz” (Arabic for Good Luck!) exactly as it was and pipped the favourite to finish in top spot in the final.
17 medals were awarded for successful course completion, easily the best ever turn out in this event.

Acknowledgements

As ever thanks are due to Duncan Louttit who ran all the Schools events and also donated the medals and trophies. Staff and parents who accompanied the entrants to the competition were often seeing their boys and girls under real stress and extremely focused for the first time and we thank them for their support. And finally we are indebted to Tony Wilcox, Chris Evans and the BCU team for providing us with such excellent facilities.

RESULTS

Lightest Mouse: 116.79g, “The Luggage”, Alex Beam, Warriors
The judges noted that Alex was one of the few entrants who had proactively fettled away all unnecessary material from the chassis of his mouse to lighten it.

Best Recorded Mouse: Priyam Patel, Warriors
Priyam’s was the best of four excellent entries in this often-neglected prize category. He described the construction and testing of his micromouse clearly and concisely.

Judges’ Award 1: Ben Moore, Tendring Technology College
Ben showed the Judges his attempt to build the ultimate minimal weight mouse using pager motors, a single LiPo cell and a picaxe microcontroller. If he had been able to get it to successfully negotiate the line follower track he would have won the lightest mouse trophy with a weight of less than 25 grams.

Judges’ Award 2: Henry Tate, Claires Court
Henry’s mouse suffered technical problems early on and he had to improvise a repair with borrowed parts. He did well to get his micromouse back into competitive order and came close to winning the wall follower event.

Judges’ Award 3: Michael Linwood, Tendring Technology College
Michael brought along a scratch-built wall follower based on an Arduino microcontroller and a self-designed chassis. It is exceptional for a schools entrant to start from scratch with a novel design. He is one entrant we feel sure will make his presence felt in the senior competitions in years to come.

DRAG RACE
1st Place: “Ventura”, Daisy Redrup, Wycombe High School. (3.03 seconds)
2nd Place: “Mad Max”, Pehrr Ramrakhyani, Wycombe High School. (8.03 seconds inc 5 sec penalty)
3rd Place: “Laoshu”, Kat Smith, Wycombe High School. (9.06 seconds inc 5 sec penalty)

LINE FOLLOWER
1st Place: “Purdy Pie”, Kaycie Fraser, Tendring Technology College. (9.22 seconds)
=2nd Place: “Tobor”, Lasen Wanni-Arachenige, Warriors. (10.99 seconds)
=2nd Place: “Arno”, David Cox, Tendring Technology College. (10.99 seconds)

WALL FOLLOWER
1st Place: “Alfyiz”, Rahaf Mohamed, Wycombe High School.
2nd Place: “Bruce”, Henry Tate, Claires Court.
3rd Place: “The Luggage”, Alex Beam, Warriors.

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