There have been many commercially available chess playing robot games over the past 25 years. These games either used a long robotic arm to pick up and place the chess pieces or provided locomotion with a movable electromagnet located under the board.
ChessBot takes a hybrid approach that produces a more visually interesting way to move a chess pieces. It uses a Lynxmotion AL5D robotic arm to pick up and place pieces but does not rely totally on the arm to provide placement. The arm itself is mounted on a mobile platform (called the Cart) that can align the arm precisely with any row or column (called Rank and File in the chess world) on the chessboard.
The most novel feature of ChessBot’s positioning system is the ability to rotate the entire chessboard by up to 180 degrees. By using the cart and the rotating board approach the robotic arm never has to reach into the chessboard by more than four squares. The arm is now able to operate in its reliable “sweet spot” and never has to over extend itself out into the far reaches of the chessboard. But most importantly it just looks really cool when it’s moving pieces around.
Although ChessBot by itself does not actually understand the game of Chess, it can be used as a mechanical user interface that supports a variety of game playing scenarios. In its simplest form, ChessBot can be used to play chess between two human players both of which are located with the game. In a more interesting scenario the players can be located remotely using a social networking service such as Twitter to send and receive moves and then observing the results on a Webcam. For automated play one of the human players can be replaced by chess playing software commonly referred to as a “chess engine”.
Below are demo videos of ChessBot playing the classic "Queen's Gambit Declined" opening and making various capture moves. You will be able to read all about ChessBot in the November/December 2009 issue of Robot Magazine.