If you are a Harry Potter fan you might recall the game of chess from the first movie or book where Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to play an invisible player and the chessmen moved by themselves. Now, two young Mumbai engineering graduates have created a chessboard where you can see the pieces moving by themselves. They call the board, SquareOff.
The idea behind SquareOff is that if you are a chess lover you shouldn't be limited by apps or geography to play a real game of chess. With its physical chessmen that move on the board, the SquareOff board provides a more tangible sense of the presence of an opponent. When it comes to an opponent, a player has a number of options -- one can play a regular old-fashioned game of chess with another person on the SquareOff board, or one can play against an Artificial Intelligence based computer player, or against the SquareOff app, or one can even stream an international match where the pieces move according to the player's moves.
The board has a very clever hardware design that doesn't make it bulky. Under the board, there is a 2-axis robotic arm with magnet, to move the pieces. The algorithm is designed to prevent the pieces from colliding. The board comes with a 2200 mAh Li-Ion battery and an adapter, and a player can play up to 50 games on a single charge.
Accompanying the hardware is the SquareOff app that connects with the board via Bluetooth, so that the player can link the hardware to the software. To play locally with the 'on-board' computer, there is no need of an Internet connection. There are 20 levels of difficulty to choose from between the two chess engines that you can select from the apps. However, to stream from the Internet or to play with someone at a remote location who has the app, you'll need the Internet.
Aatur Mehta and Bhavya Gohil, both Electrical Engineering graduates of Somaiya College, Mumbai University, began the journey that led to SquareOff in 2013 with the aim of creating a chessboard for the visually impaired.
"We were approached by the Chairperson of National Association For The Blind for a unique chessboard," Mehta told Huffpost India. "We created the prototype and the blueprint, but we didn't have enough funding back then. Later, we participated in many makers' fairs and technical competitions to gain traction as we kept building new prototypes."
The team worked hard on creating better prototypes and in May 2016 it succeeded in creating a final beta (or, a working prototype) of the product that could go into production. The team already has a feather in its cap, having won the editor's choice award at the recently concluded Maker's Faire in New York.
"Right now our goal is to refine the software and give better end product to the customer," Mehta said. "We want chess lovers to enjoy a global experience while being at home and yet not being confined by a screen. And despite very advanced technology, the end product will cost around ₹10,000-12,000."
"We are not limiting ourselves to chess," he added. "Our board is designed in such a manner that it can accommodate many board games. But to do that we'd need more programmers and backers. We are sure that eventually, that will take place."
SquareOff's Kickstarter campaign is just 15 days away from coming to a close, though the team has already raised more than double the amount it had initially aimed for. Once the SquareOff board is in full production and available in the market, get ready to play on the magical chessboard just like Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione.