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DIY Online Chess Board

By Oliver Smith

An internet-enabled chess board with an optical sensor that can see where the pieces are.

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DIY Online Chess Board


I'll need to look for more pictures of this to put up here. This was a project I worked on with my Dad. We wanted to make an electronic chess board where you could play chess with others online, but using a physical board. We overscoped it though, because I really wanted the board to be able to read where the pieces were instead of the typical approach where you have to start with the initial positions every time. We sort of accomplished this using fiber-optic, colored felt, LEDs and a camera, plus some machine learning. But it had too many false readings to really be usable, and training the machine learning was a slow, tedious process. And there was just a limit to how much we could wire up by hand for 64 squares.

At its farthest point, we had it reading chess moves and displaying them on the Raspberry PI screen, and I was in the process of hooking it up to an online chess service.

Here's one from my Dad's workshop. We mounted a little camera inside the tube and fed the fiber-optics into it, so the camera was in a dark environment and could see light through the fiber-optic cables into each of the 64 squares. The computer knew which cable led to which square and tried to tell what color was on the other end, where we had chess pieces with different colored felt on the bottom. An LED on each square lit up when a piece was placed on a square, to bounce the light from the felt into the fiber-optic.

Training the machine to recognize pieces...it took hours to train.