Play Chess Like Harry Potter

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you might remember that one of the movies showed an Isle of Lewis chess set whose pieces moved in response to a player’s voice commands. This feat has been oft replicated by hackers and [amoyag00] has a version that brings together a Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Android, and the Stockfish chess engine in case you want to play by yourself. You can see a video of the game, below.

Interestingly, the system uses Marlin — the 3D printing software — to handle motion using the Arduino. We suppose moving chess pieces over a path isn’t much different than moving a print head. It is certainly a novel use of GCode.

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Raspberry Pi Powers This Retro Chess Computer

If you imagine somebody playing chess against the computer, you’ll likely be visualizing them staring at their monitor in deep thought, mouse in hand, ready to drag their digital pawn into play. That might be accurate for the folks who dabble in the occasional match during their break, but for the real chess aficionados nothing beats playing on a real board with real pieces. Of course, the tricky part is explaining the whole corporeal thing to a piece of software on your computer.

Enter the “Chess Challenger” by [slash/byte]. Modeled after a commercial gadget of the same name from 1978, his retro-themed open hardware design utilizes the Raspberry Pi Zero and modern chess software to bring the vintage concept into the 21st century. With the Chess Challenger and a standard board, the player can face off in an epic battle of wits against the computer without risk of developing carpal tunnel. We can’t guarantee though that a few boards might not get flipped over in frustration.

The pocket sized chess computer uses a “sandwich” style construction which shows off the internals while still keeping things reasonably protected. All of the electronics are housed on the center custom PCB which features a HT16K33 driver for the dual LTP-3784E “starburst” LED displays, a MCP1642B voltage regulator, 16 TL3305 tactile switches for the keyboard, and a MCP73871 battery management chip for the 3.7 volt lithium-ion battery that powers the whole show. The Pi Zero itself connects to the board by way of the GPIO header, and is mechanically supported by the standoffs used to hold the device together.

On the software side of things, the Pi is running the mature Stockfish open source chess engine. In development now for over a decade, this GPL licensed package aims to deliver a world-class chess gameplay on everything from smartphones to desktop computers, and we’ve seen it pop up in a number of projects over the years. [slash/byte] has provided a ready to flash SD card image for the Raspberry Pi, and even provides detailed installation and setup instructions which guide you through some of the more thorny aspects of the setup such as getting the Pi running from a read-only operating system so that abrupt power cuts don’t clobber the filesystem.

Over the years, some of the most impressive projects we’ve seen revolved around playing chess, and this latest entry by [slash/byte] is no exception. Another example of the lengths the chess community will go to perfect the Game of Kings.

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Play Chess Against A Ghost

While chess had long been a domain where humans were superior to computers, the balance has shifted quite substantially in the computers’ favor. But the one thing that humans still have control over is the pieces themselves. That is, until now. A group has built a robot that both uses a challenging chess engine, and can move its own pieces.

The robot, from creators [Tim], [Alex S], and [Alex A], is able to manipulate pieces on a game board using a robotic arm under the table with an electromagnet. It is controlled with a Raspberry Pi, which also runs an instance of the Stockfish chess engine to play the game of chess itself. One of the obvious hurdles was how to keep the robot from crashing pieces into one another, which was solved by using small pieces on a large board, and always moving the pieces on the edges of the squares.

This is a pretty interesting project, especially considering it was built using a shoestring budget. And, if you aren’t familiar with Stockfish, it is one of the most powerful chess engines and also happens to be free and open-source. We’ve seen it used in some other chess boards before, although those couldn’t move their own pieces.

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Chess Robot’s Got the Moves

[RoboAvatar]’s Chess Robot consists of a gantry-mounted arm that picks up chess pieces and places them in their new location, as directed by the software. The game begins when the human, playing white, makes a move. When a play has been made, the human player presses a button to let the robot to take its turn. You can see it in action in the videos we’ve posted below the break.

Running the robot is an Arduino UNO with a MUX shield as well as a pair of MCP23017 I/O expander chips — a total of 93 pins available! Thanks to all those pins, the Arduino is able to listen to 64 reed switches, one for every square.

The robot detects the human’s move by listening to its reed switches and identifying when there is a change. The gantry consists of X and Y tracks made out of PVC slabs, with half-inch lead screws turned by NEMA-23s and powered by ST-6600 stepper drivers.

Unlike some chess robots that rely on pre-existing software, this one features a custom minimax chess algorithm that [RoboAvatar] coded himself. It consists of Python scripts run on a computer, which interacts with the Arduino via a serial connection. In the second video, he explains how his algorithm works. You can also download the Arduino and Python files from [RoboAvatar]’s GitHub repository.

You’d be surprised how many chess-playing robots we’ve published, like the ChessM8 robot and this voice-controlled chess robot.

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Chess Set From Car Parts

Chess has been around for an awfully long time, automobiles less so. However, there’s no reason the two can’t be combined, like in this chess set fashioned from automotive components.

The project was made as a gift, and is the sort of thing that’s quite accessible for an interested maker to attempt at home. Parts used to build the set include valves, valve springs, spark plugs, castellated nuts and pipe fittings. As the parts don’t actually need to be in good working condition, a haul like this could likely easily be had for less than $50 from the local pull-it-yourself wrecking yard — or free if you know a mechanic with some expired engines lying around.

The metalworking side of things involves trimming down and welding together the parts, before polishing them up and applying a coat of paint to create the white and black, or in this case, gold and black pieces.

Overall, it’s a fun weekend project that could be tackled in any number of ways depending on your creativity and taste. For a different take, check out this 3D laser cut chess set.

Interactive Board Prompts Moves for Checkers and Chess

In terms of equipment, chess and checkers are simple games — just a handful of pieces and a checkered gameboard. The simplicity belies the underlying complexity of the games, though, and goes a long way toward explaining their popularity over the millennia.

Increasing the complexity with an interactive game board for chess and checkers might seem counterintuitive, then. But [Bogdan Berg]’s project aims to not only teach checkers and chess but to make games a little more exciting and engaging. Looking a little like a tabletop version of the interactive dance floors we’ve been seeing a lot of lately, the board is built from laser-cut acrylic with plywood dividers to isolate all 64 squares. Neopixels and Hall-effect sensors are mounted to custom PCBs that stretch the length of a row and are wired to an Arduino Mega with lots of IO. Game pieces are colorful fridge magnets. [Bogdan]’s current program supports checkers and keeps track of where the pieces have been moved relative to their starting position and prompts users with possible legal moves.

[Bogdan]’s board already looks like a lot of fun in the video below, and we like the quality of the build and the unobtrusive nature of the interactivity. When he gets around to implementing chess, though, he might want something fancier than fridge magnets for game pieces.

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Chess AI, Old School

People have been interested in chess-playing computers before there were any chess-playing computers. In a 1950 paper, [Claude Shannon] defined two major chess-playing strategies. Apparently, practical chess programs still use the techniques he outlined. If you’ve ever wondered how to make a computer play chess [FreeCodeCamp] has an interesting post that walks you through building a chess engine step-by-step.

The code is in JavaScript, but the approach struck us as old school. However, it is interesting to watch the evolution of code as you go from random moves, to slightly smarter strategy, to deeper searching. Because it is in JavaScript, you can follow along in your browser and find out when the program gets smart enough to beat you. The final version is even on GitHub.

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