You built what?! A giant robotic chess set!

by ChessBase
12/11/2013 – When Lego robot designer Steve Hassenplug saw the magic chessboard in the Harry Potter film he had a new mission in life: to create a massive "Monsterchess" set, with pieces that move just like in the movie. It took over 100,000 Lego pieces and a year of work by a team of four. But the set is now working, as Popular Science reports. You have to see the images and videos.

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Inspired by the first Harry Potter movie – the one with the magic chessboard and eight-foot-high knights – veteran designer of Lego robots, Indiana programmer Steve Hassenplug decided to create a massive "Monsterchess" set, with pieces that move just like in the Potter movie.

Wizard's Chess from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone – the inspiration for Hassenplug's project

The project required more than 100,000 Lego pieces. Hassenplug and his friends John Brost, Ron McRae and Bryan Bonahoom started with the board. They chose standard Lego baseplates for each square and persuaded Lego to provide the rest of the parts free as a sponsor. Hassenplug designed the robotic bases for each piece, placing caster wheels in the four corners for balance, plus two drive wheels powered by separate electric motors from Lego's Mindstorms robotics kit.

A white rook, with the ability to fire cannonballs [photo Mike Walker]

Most of the pieces have moving parts – e.g. the knights kick their forelegs [photo Mike Walker]

The kings and queens are able to point their scepters

Read the full report in Popular Science. Pictures above are by Mike Walker.

Some quick facts

  • Over 100,000 LEGO® pieces were used, 37,612 in the chess board, 17,748 in the robot bases, 17,114 in the bodies, 22,688 in the mosaics, and 1,853 in the move selection center. Size of board: 156 sqft (14.5 sqm). Total retail cost: around $30,000. The object took four people about a year to create.

  • Programming languages used: LabVIEW for the robots. ChessBot software: interacts with various third party chess engines, currently optimized to work with “Crafty”; Opponent types Human vs Human, Human vs Computer, Computer vs Computer. Play options: normal chess game, chess puzzle, replay historical game.

  • Save and restore board position to/from FEN, save and replay games to/from PGN; load chess puzzles for players to solve; graphical on-screen helpers highlight available moves; battery status of individual chess pieces reported on-screen; uses Bluetooth to communicate with individual chess pieces.

  • Robot control functions: calculates robot paths using a recursive square-by-square tree search; optimizes the chosen path by assigning point values to the overall length of path, the number of turns, the number of border squares used, the number of occupied squares used, the ease of moving any blocking pieces.

  • Automatically clears and restores blocking pieces if necessary, parks captured pieces in the border zone of capturing color, exchanges promoted pawns for a previously captured piece (where possible), calculates inter-move dependencies to allow multiple pieces to move simultaneously, orients parked pieces based on current square and color, operates piece-specific functions where appropriate (e.g. knight galloping), automatically resets all pieces to desired position.

Video demo

So on to what you have been waiting for: a demo of the Monster Chess board in action. Impressive, although we would say not optimised for blitz or bullet chess.

Monster Chess - a short game replayed on the board

And here a chess game using LEGO Mindstorm robots for each piece –
don't miss the second half of the video, which shows the piece movement in detail

More information at the Team Hassenplug web site

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


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