For almost as long as we've had computers, humans have been trying to make ones that play chess. The most famous chess-playing computer of course is IBM's Deep Blue, which in 1997 defeated the then World Champion Garry Kasparov. But as powerful as Deep Blue was, it didn't actually move the chess pieces on its own. Perhaps that's a trivial task in comparison to beating the best chess player of all-time, but still I was pleased to discover this recent video of a chess robot that more closely fits the true definition of a chess automaton.
The "Chess Terminator" was conceived by Konstantin Kosteniuk, the father and coach of Alexandra Kosteniuk, the current women's world champion. This robot is essentially a chess-playing robotic arm which can grasp pieces, move them to another square, and then press the chess timer to finish its move. The robot is apparently quite energy efficient as well, as Kosteniuk has claimed that it can continue playing for 24 hours a day for three years straight.
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While the Chess Terminator is not totally new (it was briefly featured in the NY Post back in June), it came back into the spotlight this past week with a blitz match against former world champ Vladimir Kramnik. The video from the match is below, although it's in Russian.
As for how it works, it should be noted that the robot is not actually seeing the board, but rather is connected to it. As the pieces are fitted with sensors, the robot can detect when they are moved, and responds appropriately. The hand portion of the robot is a three-prong system which can open and close to grasp and release pieces.
The Chess Terminator does have some flaws, however. Note that around the 2:45 mark Kramnik extends his hand offering a draw, but the robot – since it's not fitted with any kind of optical device – just keeps playing, very nearly taking off Kramnik's hand in the process!
The result of this particular match was a draw in the end, but look forward to possibly more human vs robot games in the future, because short blitz matches like these are certainly a lot of fun for everyone involved.
This, of course, is not the first time that Kramnik has taken on a computer-powered opponent. He also drew against Deep Fritz in the Brains in Bahrain match back in 2002.
Photo courtesy Eugene Potemkin