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  Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
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Ismenio
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« on: November 4, 2005, 06:53PM »
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Shannon,

Another hobbyist I was in contact with from India mentioned that he faced the problem of the different shapes and sizes of the pieces. If we can have the grip focus on the base of them would that make things easier? I was thinking about the approach the folks from Hong Kong took in their project. Having the possibility of using standard, tournament size board and pieces would be a nice touch.

Any way to estimate the cost of adding vision? If we could get the specs and protocol from the DGT folks, would it be cheaper to consider using their board instead? http://www.dgtprojects.com/eboard_features.htm



Also, it would be nice if we could have these features:

- Human plays robot
- Robot plays itself
- Robot resets pieces on board at the end of the game
- An option to record and play back games and also accept PGN files to replay games

Cheers,

Ismenio
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shannon
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« Reply #1 on: November 4, 2005, 03:08PM »
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Hi again all,

Thanks for the introductions.  It sounds like we have a diverse group with generally consistent goals.  I understand folks may not have the budget for a few hundred dollar arm, and we can look at minimizing the cost of the arm by allowing the use of a lynx custom arm with fewer axis.

I love Lego and have most of the first generation Mindstorms stuff.  Unfortunately, there are many problems with Lego robots, especially ones that must reach long distances and be repeatable.  Lego tends to work loose if not carefully braced and the motors are not accurately positionable without an external feedback of some sort.  The best performance I've seen Lego provide is again done by Charmed Labs with their Lego controller which uses Back EMF for Lego motor positioning with astonishingly good results.  For this project I think we are better off using an arm and trying to reduce the cost of that to a minimum.

I'll look at the custom arm pieces offered by Lynx and see what we might combine to get the job done without going the whole Lynx6 robot arm route.  This might let more of us play.  We may be able to save some money by using another servo controller, alternative servos, etc.

Anyway, what is clear from the introductions is that the software expertise to get a decent Chess engine bundled with appropriate arm control software and possibly piece detection all pulled together and performing quickly (no 3 minute moves for our robot =) is missing from the group.  So that's where I'll stay focussed.  While there are skills in the group, it sounds like most folks are hoping to get a fairly finished kit and some software that when combined just works.

So I'll continue with this presumption.

Please let me know robot hardware I should look at and interaction you'd like to have.  It seems that human/robot interactive play on a real chess board at reasonable real-time playing speeds is the ultimate goal.  So detecting where pieces are and when they are moved by a human is an important consideration.  This entails adjusting for misaligned piece placement by the person and pieces moved and taken and initial boards being setup.  This really begs for basic vision capabilities which are not out of the question, but will definitely take longer than a blind robot which requires well positioned pieces and human moves to be registered.

Lets talk about possible phases of the project where we begin with blind oepration and then add a cheap USB camera for the next level of capability.

Cheers,

Shannon
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Raul
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #2 on: November 4, 2005, 01:11PM »
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Hello Shannon,
I'd like to introduce myself as well. I am a mechanical engineer working in the electronics industry in northern California. Specifically I design cooling system for solid state electronic components for companies like Apple, Cisco & Intel. That's just a fancy to say that I design heat sinks.

Although I wont be purchasing a unit  I can help out with the mechanical design as needed. I can provide technical drawings for local shops or help provide guidance on mechanical attachment methods.
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #3 on: November 4, 2005, 07:47AM »
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Quote from: Mephisto on September 22, 2005, 06:14AM   

Hi Ismenio
Count me in.
Just the basic features would be fine.
Bryan


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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #4 on: November 4, 2005, 07:44AM »
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Idem.

Count me too.

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Ismenio
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #5 on: November 4, 2005, 05:21AM »
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Hi Shannon and thanks for your post. Iíll go first.

I consider myself a chess computer collector wannabe, but I do love any combination of chess + computers. I have some experience with electronics (not much) going back to when I was a teenager building FM transmitters for pranks in my neighborhood! I have built a few robots, nothing fancy but I am comfortable manipulating a soldering iron. Recently Iíve joined the Pittsburgh Robotics Club. I am a software developer though today I mostly oversee other developers and provide technical lead in projects (so I havenít written much code lately )
We use mostly Cache (by InterSystems) and Visual Basic .NET to build the front end for our apps. Though Iím just starting on VB, Iím more on the architectural side of the database.

I am also willing to help others. I think having a consistent platform is a big plus as this will also make it easier to implement future enhancements, upgrades and also for maintenance.

Bryan, I did look at the Lego projects in the past and I think they are great but my goal is to have a robot that I can really play chess with, having a quick response with an arm that can move at a reasonable speed. For example, the project from Andy, last I saw it, had a video of the knight moving and it takes about 3 minutes (If I recall correctly) for it to complete the move! I donít mean to put the project down at all. I give him all the credit and have the highest regards for him but I am really looking for a modern version of the Novag robot.

Building on a Windows platform will allow me to build the computer (I have also built many of my own PCs) and give me the change to have a very powerful ďdedicatedĒ chess computer that, maybe, can even challenge the Resurrection!

I say dedicated in the sense that it would boot up and automatically run the chess program and nothing else. Pretty much like you have ATMs, medical equipments, etc. I would like to have custom hooks in place to allow for expansions (both hardware and software).

Shannon, how complex would it be to have the reed switches and magnetic pieces to register the moves?

Depending on how this goes and how many people we get interested we can talk about not boring all the members with the details and transfer future discussions via email. If the project does take off I promise to set up a page with updates on the project so everyone can follow the progress.

As for future possibilities, what if we could dream about using a DGT board? To me, that would be the ultimate chess computer! Robotic arm + very powerful chess engine and hardware + full piece recognition!!!

Regards,

Ismenio
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Mephisto
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #6 on: November 4, 2005, 03:29AM »
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Hi again
A couple more Lego chess robots
http://www.coli.uni-saarland.de/courses/lego-02/page.php?id=projects
http://www.artilect.co.uk/lego/default.asp?page=Chess
Bryan
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #7 on: November 4, 2005, 03:15AM »
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Hi
It looks to me like the cost will be too high for me to join this project.
Another approach might be to use Lego !!
No don't laugh. There are already Lego chess robots using arms available. Here's a link I found which doesn't look too hard to make if one of use knows something about robotics and connecting it to a PC.
http://www.marioferrari.org/brlm/brlm.html
The main robot controller also costs less than £100 new and you might be able to pick one up cheaper on eBay
http://www.active-robots.com/products/lego/legospares.shtml

Bryan
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Shannon
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« Reply #8 on: November 3, 2005, 10:49PM »
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Folks,

I've been talking with Ismenio sporadically over many months about building a chess playing robot.  You all seem very passionate and dedicated to achieving this as a group and I'd like to help.

It would be helpful to for each of you to introduce yourself, describe your experience with robots, experience programming and any related experience.  It would also be good to know how much involvement you want with the development, and whether you want a learning experience (in the programming realm) as well as a working finished project.

Let me know what you all have been discussing and planning.  Also let me know what budget constraints we have to work within.  I've read through the recent posts and see various ideas about potential robots.  I favor one of the arms made by Lynx over any other custom robot or a robot that isn't an arm, because arms are more versatile and every one in the group can buy and build the exact same robot arm making the software problem easier.  If there are other arms that are better than the Lynx arm, send out a link so we can look it over.

Originally Ismenio was hoping I'd build him a copy of a 6axis (5' x 30"'x 18"' motion 3 axis gantry and 3 axis rotating arm plus gripper) robot I built several years ago.  It is a nice big lexan educational robot of custom design that is easy to program to play chess because it uses a linear 3 axis gantry so no arm kinematics software is required.  Unfortunately, I no longer own the CNC mill I used to make that robot, so it is one-of-a-kind.  Normal arms require complex software to be usable so this is their downside.



I made the rack and pinion gears on a Haas VF1 I used to own



My first  robot circa '94 was a hand made Sumo I built on a drill press before I had the VF1.



Again, for this project I'm hoping we all agree to buy a reliable and consistent kit so we're working with the same hardware.  For the brain I hope we all have a PC of some sort.  It doesn't need to be fast or fancy, Windows 2000 or later will work fine.  If the group is set on an embedded solution the GameBoy Advance plus the Chamed Labs XPort 2.0 programmable GameBoy cartridge would be my second choice.  I don't (nor does my team), program on Macs or do non-server related Linux development so I hope that Windows is okay with everyone.

I look forward to chatting more and gathering your requests and requirements.

I've been programming computers since 1978 and have over 20 years of professional software development experience.  I've been fortunate enough to have worked on famous products such as Lotus 123/Symphony, Borland Quattro Pro and Transmeta's Crusoe microprocessor.  I currently manage and program with my development team at a SV startup building web incentive applications.  I also am CTO of my company Simmunity which is creating a new RAD platform and programming language which is my main passion (besides partner, kids and animals).

Cheers,

Shannon
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Ismenio
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #9 on: November 3, 2005, 06:46PM »
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Thanks Mike. I also would prefer a robotic arm version. We'll see what Shannon has to say about using different versions of the arm.

Also, I realize this is not a cheap project and that the task is somewhat daunting but I have tried to contact others who have built chess playing robots without much help. Shannon is the first one who was willing to help. I really think we have the technology and resources to have a modern robot! I even have ideas for the future like adding a robotic head and AI with emotions!

(Just something to look at, for the future http://www.androidworld.com/prod04.htm and http://mirrors.meepzorp.com/robothead/ )


This one costs $160: http://www.bpesolutions.com/teched.html but again, let's cross that bridge later!



Maybe we will see this baby playing in Kaufbeuren 2006  

Regards,

Ismenio
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Mike Watters
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #10 on: November 3, 2005, 04:36PM »
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Ismenio

Our posts crossed. 

I will email you on the advice Shannon has given us. We will need to know soon who wishes to commit to a project of this nature.

Mike

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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #11 on: November 3, 2005, 04:20PM »
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Hi All

There really is something about a chess playing robot with an arm. I will of course go along with the majority but I would like to vote for a robot arm please.

The sort of costs mentioned so far are OK for me.

Does a chess robot arm need wrist rotate?



I shall just be listening and learning , and supporting the project.

All the best
Mike
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #12 on: November 3, 2005, 04:06PM »
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Raul and All,

I would for the the "XY Robot!" I just liked the arm for the more "humanoid" touch to it. We can discuss that with Sahnnon.
I received more information from him and have sent him the link to this thread so hopefully he'll be here to help us. Basically, this would be a team work. We are the "consumers" and he can help us get there but we would be at the wheel, so to speak.

So, let me introduce him to you and share what he sent me: His name is Shannon Bailey and he is a robot builder and commercial software developer interested in helping further our goal of owning a chess playing robot!


From Shannon:

While the chess robot idea is interesting and I'd be happy to develop a system for your group, I am not the customer here so you've got to drive the desire and requirements and figure out how to organize the interested group members so you can pool your funds for software development and each buy and assemble the appropriate robot

If you can arrange for a minimum purchase of 10 licenses of the software at $300 per license, I can port a nice chess playing program for a Windows PC and add extra software needed to drive the Lynx6 robot.  I could probably have the software ready in 6 weeks or so if it is a build to spec type of thing.  I'd probably sub-contract out a portion of the development to one of the contract engineers I manage to speed things up.

If the group is more hands on oriented and wants to participate in the software development process as well as robot kit building, I can provide software components and educational materials and mentor the groups software development process such that we work as a team to create a complete solution.  The group involvement, learning and teamwork will create a much richer experience of accomplishment and satisfaction and will be more fun.  Either way will take about the same amount of time and be similar in cost.

You are the customer here so I am just trying to point out options and give you an idea of the scope and costs.  For commercial development my contract engineers charge of anywhere from $60 to $150 per hour.  But for non-profit organizations, we typically charge a rate of $30 per hour, which is what I would quote for this project.  If we develop a complete solution for you it will likely take about 100 hours.

These are just some ideas.  Let me know what you all want to do.  I'd be happy just to provide guidance for the group while they decide what they want to do, gratis.

Regards,

Shannon


Also, I came up with a $1000 budget, that's a draft so please help me here as I don't really know the final cost.

More details from Shannon:

Here is the set of materials I would use for this project.

The Lynx robots, Lynx5 and Lynx6 (which has a longer reach) would be a good choice.

http://www.lynxmotion.com/Category.aspx?CategoryID=25

To operate the robot, there are some interesting projects at: http://www.lynxmotion.com/ViewPage.aspx?ContentCode=projects&CategoryID=20#l5-6arm

Of greatest interest is the kinematics software such as
http://www.lynxmotion.com/images/html/proj073.htm
and
http://www.lynxmotion.com/images/html/proj058.htm

These algorithms implemented in Excel can be ported to C or other language.  This code provides arm coordination by controlling servo angles based on a desired gripper orientation and XYZ position.  These algorithms are mathematically challenging.

With a chess program such as one of the engines and board programs listed here

http://www.linuxsoft.cz/en/sw_list.php?id_kategory=63

the chess game can drive the kinematics software and run the robot.

I am assuming you want a PC to run the chess game software and kinematic software.  If you want a dedicated controller, I'd recommend looking at the GameBoy Advance XX matched with a custom cartridge like the one sold by www.charmedlabs.com for $140.00 (which I've used as the development environment for a custom GameBoy Advance SP game for kids with quadriplegia).  This is a reliable and stable development platform with good long term availability of the console (millions of units sold and new bright screen units now in stores =)  The GameBoy is a good and cheap platform with its color screen, sound and button controllers.

Your $1000.00 budget for the entire solution seems reasonable if shared with a few other people.  For my part, I'd be mostly looking at pulling together a bunch of open-source program code and combining it with new code, etc.  I might job out some of this to a contractor friend.

Lastly, if a PC solution is used, then vision becomes reasonable to consider long term.  Open source vision libraries are available and I have played with one of them.  BUT, the camera, lighting, scene contrast, board colors and materials and the pieces and other variables will affect the systems reliability and we should probably not consider vision for now.


Regards,

Ismenio
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #13 on: November 3, 2005, 10:24AM »
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Ismenio,

I was wondering why you were going with an arm as opposed to an XY table. Your are correct it is much cheaper. Because I was new to the forum I wasnt sure if you folks had already disscused this. So I wasnt sure if i should suggest this. But its starting to sound like you are really at the begining of this project.

If that is the case we can learn alot just by looking at an old Phantom or Mirage. That is also why in a previous post I has asked if any one had taken off the cover on their unit.  So I could see its guts so to speak.

Even though the units themselves are old we still may be able to use some of the part numbers off of the components. No sense in reinventing the entire wheel. Besides this will allow the designers to focus on the  features that really want to set their unit apart from whats been done in the past.
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #14 on: November 3, 2005, 06:31AM »
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Ouch! Thatís a lot! I hadnít looked at the price for the different models Raul! Thanks for that. Shannon said it would be the ďbestĒ option but I believe we can use other models. I think there is one that is a little over $200. Maybe we can even have a modular system that could work with different kits. Weíll see.

I know that one of the problems with the robot from Novag from the 80s was that they started off using stepper motors but to reduce costs they decided not to use them anymore and Iíve heard that was of the causes of problems with that model. Maybe we can strike a happy medium between quality and price.

Also, he has built one that doesn't use an arm but a xy axis system which much easier, simpler and cheaper! We can also talk about that one

Regards,

Ismenio
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #15 on: November 2, 2005, 04:58PM »
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This unit is probably going to be a little out of my price range. The L6 robotic arm alone is $400. And we havent picked out the brains in yet.

But I can help out with the mechanical design if needed. I have access to a couple of CAD packages. ProE being one of them. So I can have some drawings, IGES or Sterolithograph files generated for you should that be the route that you decide to take.

Once you have the component list. I'm sure that you can get some of the subcomponents from companies like GRAINGER and McMaster-Carr. They're just mega distributers and they usually carry a little bit of everything.

Question, has any one taken apart their board, I would love to see a picture of the mechanics on the inside.
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #16 on: November 2, 2005, 04:21PM »
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Good points and questions guys! Shannon said he'd be happy to talk to us here so let's see what he has to say.
On the arm model, L6 would be the best option because of its longer reach.

He also said that even though vision is a possibility, we may not want to go that way because of issues such as lightning, contrast, etc.

I told him we have 4 interested ones so far. Let me know if there are more:

1. Ismenio
2. Mike W.
3. Christian
4. Bryan

Raul has some good points. Maybe we can brainstorm the project all together!

Regards,

Ismenio
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #17 on: November 2, 2005, 11:22AM »
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Ismenio,

Thank you for inviting me to this forum. And I think that this is a great idea. Has anyone put together a project outline for this program yet? If so I would love to see it. If not maybe we should think about putting one together.

This is a great way for the designers to know exactly what they want, where they are, and where they need to be. And it will help identify preliminary project costs up front.  This will also help the builder know what your expectations are up front which will make managing the project much eaiser.

Next we should put together a timeline to help you identify any possible resource bottle necks. Once identified you can call on members to help out where needed. This could be as simple as finding new suppliers, to purchasing needed components. Or it could be as difficult as writting the actual program or interface between the program and the mechanical arm.

Anyway this is just an idea.....Any thoughts?
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #18 on: November 1, 2005, 09:12PM »
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Ismenio,  hi the Lynx 5 robotic arm seems ideal, how would we get this project on the road? What is the next step? Would it be the L5 or L6?  The board would have to have sensory input I assume. Could the Chess computer be offered as a kit? That would be cool and maybe keep the price down. Who would program the software? I would love to program all the moves into the unit myself. Worked with a similar unit in college years ago, always fascinated me. Toyed many years with RC Helicopters which are still the most amazing machines to me.
What is the next step?

Luckster
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Re:Another project for a Chess Playing Robot
« Reply #19 on: November 1, 2005, 07:48PM »
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Update on this folks! I got an email from Shannon (that's the guy I'm teasing on this ) and he said that we have some options here. He's pretty busy but he's been working with his son who could help with the project.

I will try to see if he has time to come join us here but I'm not sure with his schedule.

Anyway, I'm sending him some more information today.

Here's part of what we've been discussing (his reply):

... while I can get a robot to play chess against itself with real pieces, and writing a chess playing program which is competent but basic is not difficult (I had a DOS graphical chess game in 1983 that was good and was only 8000 bytes as a .COM file just to give you a sense of <the lack> of complexity of a chess game engine).  To make a commercial quality, strong computerized player with book moves and decent strategy and not just a tactical move searching and scoring beast is bit more work.  To add vision so that the computer can see human moves and play interactively is a lot more work, but very interesting...

He has a critical question: how much are we willing to put into this? I believe the question has to do with what he can do, meaning more features will obviously increase the complexity and the cost. Let me know what you think. You can email me privately if you prefer.

To make things easier, we would be using a commercial arm like the ones from Lynxmotion: http://www.lynxmotion.com/



Regards,

Ismenio

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