I ordered a Squareoff board hoping it would provide a great physical experience, but it doesn't feel great at all. That's why I called a friend, and we are developing our own automatic chessboard. Our main goal is to recover the experience and unmatched feeling of playing OTB, and the same time embracing the technology and connectivity we now have.
I’m not the biggest fan of chess apps, but let’s face it: they are the only alternative to play in the distance with friends and basically anyone in the world.
For our board, I want the connectivity of the apps plus the nice feel of playing with real pieces.
Tavo has been working on an open software to connect the board to Lichess server. We also wanted to include chess.com server but it’s closed. I’ll try to contact them hoping to add their app to the board. Who knows It might be worth the shot! ;)
To connect our board to Lichess we started using an ESP32 but we have problems with the TLS and the HTTPS library.
After knocking our heads against the wall around this issue Tavo found this amazing development in Aruduino’s project hub:
It uses an Arduino One Wifi so we moved to a compatible module to use his open-source project as a base, the Arduino Nano 33 IoT. This will kill two birds with one stone by also helping us on having an open platform
We already played our first games through Lichess server! But, there’s still a pain in the butt, the process to connect to any Wifi network, fortunately, Tavo is as hooked as I am and found a great tool to make the process easier.
So now we are working on implementing a captive portal feature to make everything work seamless.
This is all the progress at the moment, I’ll let you know our final implementation very soon!
Having an XY mechanism like SO, solved in a practical and fast way the movement of the pieces around the board. The problem is that you need to add space around the playable surface for the motors. I want a mechanism with no extra frame, but just enough for the captured pieces.
I worked on a project before that used a SCARA mechanism. Based on this I designed a mechanism that allows the electromagnet to reach all zones of the board no matter its size and shape. This helped me reduce the size of the frame, the bad news, my board is too high!
While looking for ways of reducing board height, I came across a project called ZarPlotter. It works by using CDPR, a cable-driven mechanism that moves the end effector (in our case an electromagnet) by pulling cables from the 4 corners of the frame with stepper motors.
In terms of space, it seems like a good way to explore! I’ll work on a new prototype with this mechanism and let you know the results.
Any suggestions on other mechanisms to explore are more than welcome, you guys have been very supportive!
The weakest point of the current board are the pieces. They are too light and small (I’m guessing this is to make them easy to move by the mechanism)
I will produce new bigger and heavier pieces and, since we’ll do them from scratch, why not have our own custom design? ;)
The first design is made out of wood with a magnet inside and an aluminum ring. I like the shape and looks but the pieces are still too light.
This lightness causes the piece to wobble when moved around by the electromagnet when passing close to a resting piece.
We added cold rolled steel to add more weight to the pieces.
I’m very pleased with the current design but having the mechanism and the electromagnet to move the pieces correctly will not be easy. We’ll have to find the correct electromagnet to move the weight of the pieces smoothly or look for other options
Let me know what you think!
We have kept going with this project. The problem we have right now is to find a way to have wood veneer on the surface (this requires a rigid board) and, at the same time, being able to detect the pieces and their location.
The first idea is to have hall effect sensors placed under the board and magnets inside the pieces to have the sensing system working without needing to push buttons.
The one thing it worries me is that using hall sensors will need to use a very thin interface between the sensors (under the board) and the magnets (inside the pieces)
The current board is made out of an aluminium composite panel which is very rigid and lightweight. We machined the bottom side of the panel to allow the sensors to be placed closer to the magnets while the top side has wood veneer.
This is a good way to have natural wood veneer on the board, but we are sure there is still plenty of room for improvements.
I've always preferred playing OTB. I already spend too much time on my phone and computer for work. With the lockdowns, one of the things I missed the most was 1-1 games. I ordered a squareoff board hoping it would provide a great physical experience, but it doesn't feel great at all.
My first instinct was to modify the squareoff board and replace the plastic membrane with wood veneer.
Bad idea, the membrane system requires the surface to bend for the pieces to be detected. Not only will real wood not bend, but the inconsistent detection was something I didn't love about the SO in the first place.
Must feel as close to an "analog" board as possible
Wood veneer, large wood weighted pieces :)
Play against anyone online (Compatible with Lichess, no closed ecosystem)
Play against the board (Stockfish but maybe some other too, what are your thoughts on this ?)
I'm terrible at anything software but luckily convinced a friend to help me out, he's brilliant so I'm confident we will build a kickass board.
I’ll be sharing the progress we make over here, but if you are more passionate about this subject and would like a more in depth look or share your ideas, I created a discord server too. This is the link: https://discord.gg/5Am7CDzwUf