Square Off: World’s smartest chess board evokes presence

[As this story from ChessBase says, playing chess against an online opponent on a 2D screen just isn’t the same as using a physical (“real”) chess set, and the creators of Square Off have developed an innovative presence-evoking alternative. The original story includes lots of pictures as well as the 3:06 minute Kickstarter video. –Matthew]

Square Off chess board

World’s smartest chess board is here!

by Sagar Shah
October 13, 2016

How about sitting in the comfort of your living room and challenging a player anywhere in the world to play a game with you, on a “real chess set”? Sound’s impossible right! With the world’s smartest chess board, “Square Off”, it no longer is! This article deals with the journey of how a revolutionizing chess technology was created. After years of hard work and innumerable prototypes, the final product is now ready. And you can be the proud owner of the Square Off chess set by supporting their campaign on Kickstarter.

You are sitting at home looking for a game of chess with a friend that you have invited. The chess board and pieces have been arranged. The settings look perfect. You have prepared some clever opening traps to score a few quick points! Suddenly you receive a text from him saying that he is busy and won’t be able to make it. Aaugh! What a horrible day!

Reluctantly you get up from your chair and make your way to the computer. You go to an online platform and start playing chess with random people who are also sitting in front of their computers in different parts of the globe. While playing online is fine, the fun of touching the pieces and making the moves on a real chess board is the missing element. The 2D computer screen doesn’t give you the same experience that one gets while playing on the chess board during a tournament. That’s when you swear at your friend for ditching you.

Meeting friends at a common place in order to play chess on a real chess board is not easy. You have to fix a location, a common time, take care of the transport, and all of this is a huge hassle. But what if you could play on a chess board from the comfort of your living room against an opponent anywhere in the world!

Two chess boards are connected with each other with the help of the Square Off app on your smart phone. The app will connect you with an opponent sitting anywhere in the world. Suppose you get the white pieces and make the move 1.e4 on the board. That same move will be automatically executed on your opponent’s board! It’s just like playing against a real opponent! Besides human opponents, you can also play against the in-built engine which will automatically make its moves.

Square Off uses a compact two axis robotic arm with a magnetic head beneath the box to move the magnetic chess pieces. An AtMega 2560 chip with Bluetooth BLE ensures smooth communication with a smartphone, taking care of decrypting and execution. The most important thing is that the board is programmed in a way that the chess pieces don’t collide during automatic movements.

The Square Off App

The idea is to make the chess board button-free. Hence, everything is controlled through the app. Be it selecting black or white side, difficulty levels, challenging friends, analyzing games, using the clock or chatting with the opponent. Your phone is connected to the board all the time via Bluetooth, allowing you to save an incomplete game. Also, it uses your phone’s Wi-Fi to connect to the internet and your phone’s processor to process the data and think of the next possible moves. Currently it works on Stockfish 7, which is the best open source chess engine. Many more engines will be offered in the future.

Features of Square Off

  • Square Off Mode: Challenge opponent. It allows you to play against any opponent on the planet.
  • Training Mode: Play against the mighty machine that can engage you with ten different difficulty levels and two chess engines.
  • Live streaming – Tune into any game, worldwide. It also lets you record those games and replay them on the board, whenever you want.

Extra Features:

  • It does not allow invalid moves (error feedback with beeps)
  • Two Chess engines having total 20 different difficulty levels
  • Opening move selection
  • Load and save game
  • Audio feedback during check, promotion and checkmate
  • Displays instructions on phone screen
  • You need to press on the initial square and final square while moving the chess piece
  • It has a battery of 2200 mAh, Lipo battery Chip on Board: AtMega 2560 chip and BLE 4.0 Bluetooth.

The Journey

In the year 2013, Bhavya and Aatur got in touch with the Chairperson of National Association of Blind (NAB) to understand the feasibility of an idea. They wanted to design a chessboard for the visually impaired. It was not possible for the blind to play chess on computers and smartphones. Being board game lovers, Bhavya and Aatur dived in to explore the possibilities. They researched tirelessly to finally arrive at a design. But, they didn’t have the funds to bring it to life.

In order to fund themselves they started participating in various technical paper presentations and national level tech competitions to earn the prize money, just to create a prototype. Gradually they gathered sufficient cash to design their first working set in 2014. They were helped in a huge way by RiiDL (Research, Innovation, Incubation, Design Lab) at Somaiya College, Vidyavihar, the institution where both Bhavya and Aatur studied engineering.

The Chairman of National Association of Blind, who himself is visually impaired, tested the prototype and loved playing on it. As Bhavya puts it, “It was one of the happiest days of our life!”

It was time to take it to the next level. In October, 2014 Aatur and Bhavya got an opportunity to present their prototype in front of an international audience at the Maker Faire, Rome. This was the real turning point. The response was tremendous and the positive feedbacks made them realise that the board had the potential to connect the whole world.

More opportunities flowed in. The duo were invited to showcase the prototype at all the IITs in India, MIT Boston FAB 11, Startup Istanbul and the Sharjah Chess Club. Although, it had a smoother mechanism, the board lacked premium quality. That’s when they decided to create a classic, rosewood finish chessboard with exquisitely designed chess pieces.

The cost of these raw products was very high in India. Hence, they decided to visit China to procure the raw materials.

After three years of tedious efforts, finally the Beta product was ready in May 2016. To test and gauge the response, a small batch of Collector’s Edition Square Off boards were produced and 20 of them were sold in no time.

What’s next?

Chess is just the beginning. The vision is to add a variety of board games like Checkers, Backgammon, Snakes & Ladder, etc. to build a highly connected board gaming platform. All you would need to do is to upgrade the Square Off App, replace the top surface with another board game panel and you will be ready to play your preferred game with anybody in the world.

They need your support more than ever

Square Off has started their campaign on Kickstarter to raise €45,000. The project will only be funded if that amount is collected until the 18th of November 2016. €179 is what it will cost you to own a Square Off chess board.

Your funding is what can help them undertake bulk orders through suppliers at the best possible prices. More importantly, they need funds to bear the setup costs to kick-off production and deliver to as many chess lovers as possible. The certification, necessary paperwork and government approvals can be possible only when they have a strong backing. Your support opens up the possibility to develop many fun board games that people would love to play.

About the Founders

Bhavya Gohil is an electronic engineer from the Mumbai University. He is the one with wild imagination and splits his time between growing the company and working with the team on all areas of product, engineering and customer happiness.

Aatur Mehta is also an electronic engineer from the Mumbai University. He is a tech enthusiast who craves knowledge, and is passionate about robotics. He believes in applying creative engineering to solve toughest problems in the simplest of ways.

You can get all the updates related to Square Off by following them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their official website.

Addendum on 15th October 2016:

Since this article was published on our newspage, Square Off has been able to realize their goal on Kickstarter to a great extent. From 31 they have now 108 backers and the collection has increased from €8,218 to €26,093.

Bhavya Gohil, CEO of Infivention which created Square Off wrote to us, “Square off is not just a revolution in the field of chess, but it’s about to change the world of board gaming. That’s why, it’s reassuring to watch people support a fabulous product like this. I really appreciate that over 30 readers of ChessBase have backed up this project. It feels great to know that people are supporting great innovations, thus encouraging innovators to work harder towards producing something extraordinary or reviving the old creations, that have been untouched for years.”

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