AI-enabled chess set moves virtual opponents on a real board

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Square Off lets chess players go head-to-head with AI or human opponents anywhere in the world, on a physical, wooden board that moves pieces by itself(Credit: Infivention)

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Robots have been playing chess (or pretending to) since the Mechanical Turk in 1769. Today, we can easily jump online and play against an AI opponent or another human player anywhere in the world, but we lose the tactile pleasure of moving real pieces. Mumbai-based startup Infivention has a solution: Square Off, a physical chess board that can move pieces around on its own, driven by either an AI system or the moves of an online human player using an app or their own board.

The first thing you might notice about the Square Off is that it's quite a bit thicker than the average chess board, but that's to enable it to do the second thing you'll notice – the pieces move around by themselves. Underneath that familiar grid lies a two-axis robotic arm, with a magnetic head attached to it. That allows the system to make its moves by grabbing a piece from below and dragging it to the desired square, and it's programmed to avoid collisions, meaning the pieces politely scoot around each other.

All the high-tech wizardry is deliberately hidden away to give the set a clean and classic look, with a spill-resistant, rosewood-finished board and handcrafted pieces made of maple and rosewood. The 2,200 mAh battery is apparently enough to power about 400 automated moves before needing a charge, and the board connects to a smart device via Bluetooth using the Square Off app, for iOS and Android.

Players pick whether they want to play against AI or a friend: if against a computer, the app runs a couple of different "chess engines," granting the robo-board 20 different difficulty levels to practice with. When playing against a human, your opponent can make their moves either on the app's virtual board, or by physically moving the pieces on their own Square Off set. For chess lovers who actually follow professional players, the board can also act like a live TV feed of a match, moving the pieces of both sides around while you look on.

At the moment, Square Off is purely a chess set, but Infivention wants to eventually expand its self-playing technology to other board games, like Checkers, Backgammon and Snakes & Ladders.

Infivention is seeking funding for Square Off on Kickstarter, where it's currently raised £115,000 (US$142,807) of its initial goal of £40,000, with 13 days remaining. Pledges start at £179 ($222) for a standard Kingdom set, or £224 ($278) for the Grand Kingdom set, which includes a bigger board with a space for captured pieces, and an auto-reset function. If all goes as planned, Square Off should start shipping in April 2017.

Since Square Off is at its most impressive when you can see the pieces moving themselves, check out the campaign video below.

Source: Square Off

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