Do robotic mice dream of electric cheese?

It may seem like science fiction, but students in Suffolk’s Engineering Department recently built a small robotic rodent – or micromouse – to compete at a regional gathering of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The mice navigate a 16’ x 16’ maze, searching for the center while navigating twists and turns that are only unveiled on competition day.

Suffolk’s three-person team included juniors Michael DeFilippo, Earl Herndon, and Suhsun Tseng. They became interested in building micromice during a Freshman Seminar course which included building the tiny robots using kits. For the IEEE competition, the team planned and fabricated their mouse entirely from scratch.

“Our design this year was very simple,” explains DeFilippo. “One wheel would turn as the electric ‘whisker’ ran along the wall, sensing the boundaries. When the whisker detected a corner, the mouse would switch power to the alternate wheel and turn.”

The team was coached by associate professor Mostapha Ziad, but the students were entirely responsible for the design and building of the robot.

“This was the third year I’ve had students participate in the micromouse competition,” says Ziad. “However, the competition took place much earlier this year, and I’m extremely impressed at what the team was able to accomplish in only a few short weeks.”

Although it worked flawlessly in tests, this year’s micromouse was stumped by one corner of the IEEE competition maze. Since competitors are not allowed to modify their devices, the team was unable to help their mouse get past the hurdle. The team still placed third in the competition. Encouragingly, the mouse did locate the correct path that would have led to the center of the maze, proving their concept was solid.

The team already has big plans for next year, according to DeFilippo:

“We want to be the first team in the IEEE competition to incorporate sonar into our micromouse design.”