School of Computer Science THE UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM CoSy project CogX project

Can a robot design a humane mouse trap?
Last updated: 15 Nov 2010
Installed: 15 Nov 2010

A challenge for future robots

Robots can do all sorts of things, if suitably programmed. Will they one day be able to work out for themselves how to do things?

Much current work in robotics (e.g. The CogX project) aims to give robots sufficient understanding of the world to be able to explore a portion of the world, learn how it is structured, then later work out how to get back to previously seen locations, or to move objects from one place to another, or even to assemble objects to form larger structures.

The mouse-trap problem requires the ability to combine various kinds of knowledge, of animal behaviours, physical sizes and weights, gravity, balance, and how the shape of a container can constrain the movements of an animal within it.

When we noticed a mouse in the house and failed to catch it, Alison, my wife, looked for information about humane mouse traps and found this web page, by Chris Glass:

We already knew that our mouse had a liking for chocolate, so she decided to make a similar trap and use a lump of chocolate as bait.

The first version on a shelf where the mouse had originally found and tasted chocolate (eating through the wrapping) did not catch anything.

Here are two views of it:

trap 1             trap 2

A better mouse trap
So we moved the trap to the top of a box file in another room, with a ramp for easy access and some bait on the ramp, and a few days later it worked. The mouse was taken to a park some distance away and set free.

(1) trap 2       (2) trap 2       (3) trap 3

Picture (1) Shows the ramp up to the trap, balanced on a box of music. Picture (2) gives a closer view showing a cashew nut at the top of the ramp to help tempt the mouse to the top.
Picture (3) shows the view from above. The metal clip was added to stop the tube falling over without the mouse. Chocolate inside the end of the tube is not visible.

(4) trap 4       (5) trap 5       (6) trap 2

Picture (4) from above shows the mouse hiding in tube, tail visible. In Picture (5) the mouse is right out in full view. Picture (6) shows the mouse on its way back
to the tube, before being taken to be released in the park.

What does this have to do with robots?
Some tasks:

A related challenge: Maria Petrou's Shirt Ironing Robot
Take a look at this problem and think about how to design the robot:

Challenges involving vision


Maintained by Aaron Sloman
School of Computer Science
The University of Birmingham