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Two Cal State L.A. engineering teams finished first, second places at regional competition

CSULA’s ‘micromice’ are quick, smart—navigating further in a challenging maze

Photo: CSULA's awrd-winning micromice.
Cal State L.A.'s award-winning (r-l) “Digital Cogs” micromouse and "SuperDuper MicroMouse."

Photo: CSULA's first-place team.
L-r: Professor Jianyu Dong joins Yuan Huang, Jeong Lim and Lee Sawyer at the annual MicroMouse Competition's awards presentation.

Photo: CSULA's second-place team.
Isaac Almaraz (l) and Peter Palacios (r) accepting their award at the annual MicroMouse Competition.

Cal State L.A.’s engineering students don’t “mouse” around when it comes to building and designing robots. At the recent 2012 MicroMouse Competition, two CSULA teams outperformed four other teams by navigating the most number of blocks within a 10-minute timeframe.

Designed by Yuan Huang, Jeong Lim and Lee Sawyer, “Digital Cogs” micromouse won first place, whereas the “SuperDuper MicroMouse”—designed by Isaac Almaraz and Peter Palacios—received second place in the competition.

“The maze was so challenging that none of the participating teams was able to find the center within the time constraint,” said faculty adviser Jianyu Dong, professor of electrical and computer engineering at CSULA. “However, the CSULA micromice were smart enough to avoid the traps in the maze and navigated further.”

A micromouse is a mini-robotic rodent that can automatically navigate a 16x16-unit maze quickly with unknown topology with the goal of finding the center without being trapped. Each robotic rodent had a microcontroller (small computer) as its “brain,” stepper or DC motors as its “legs,” and infrared sensors as its “eyes.”

While incorporating expertise in control systems, computer engineering, power and electronics, both CSULA teams configured their own algorithms to solve the maze.

According to Dong, “The MicroMouse Competition, sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Region 6 Southern Area, is a traditional design challenge, yet it is still considered a very challenging design project for undergraduate students.”

To succeed in the project, students from different specialization areas should work together as a team effectively,” explained Dong. “There are many practical factors that the students need to consider to make their design work in reality.”

Huang, who was responsible for developing the maze-solving algorithm for his award-winning team, said, “I’m pleased that the effort we put in this MicroMouse project is recognized and rewarded. And I’d like to extend my appreciation to the people who supported us.”

An electrical engineering major, Huang is planning to also be involved in next year’s MicroMouse Competition. He said, “I hope to further improve the performance of the micromouse.”

At CSULA, the MicroMouse project has evolved from a competition to a multi-tiered program that supports hands-on design practice for both seniors and juniors. Seniors also organized workshop series to introduce robotics design to other interested students. In addition, CSULA’s IEEE chapter hosts an annual Junior Robotics Competition to engage third-year or younger students in the areas of robotics and to motivate them to participate in the MicroMouse Competition.

Almaraz, an electrical engineering major in charge of controls and straight-correctness for his team’s micromouse, explained, “In order for the robot to succeed in its goal of finding the center of a maze, the mouse must traverse the maze going straight without hitting the walls. I believe I was successful in completing this goal, since the robot did not crash into any of the walls during the competition.”

“But, the credit goes to my team that made our victory possible,” Almaraz said. “It was an awesome experience working with my teammates and learning from each other.”

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Last Update: 01/12/2016