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  Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
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Dick Schneiders
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« on: February 20, 2005, 05:23AM »
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Quote from: Mike Watters on February 20, 2005, 02:19AM   


Do you think that the poor build quality of the Mirage could be levelled at Excalibur products more generally?

I only have a Mirage and Grandmaster so cannot really judge. Very few of either model will have been sold in the UK.

Best regards
Mike




Mike,

I have seen a few reports of problems with the GM.  I believe that the build quality of all of them is considerably less than that of the other makers we are interested in.

The only one I have is a very cheap handheld that I bought for carrying in my pocket.  However, the display is so dim and faint, the product is totally unusable for me.

Dick

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Mike Watters
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2005, 02:19AM »
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There does not seem to be any let up in the enthusiasm for Mirages on Ebay.

The latest one has reached $350, 17 hours from the auction ending as I write.

I wonder whether they have read the article? 

Do you think that the poor build quality of the Mirage could be levelled at Excalibur products more generally?

I only have a Mirage and Grandmaster so cannot really judge. Very few of either model will have been sold in the UK.

Best regards
Mike

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Dick Schneiders
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2005, 02:04PM »
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Wow, that is ever worse than I had imagined from reading a few complaints on the Internet.  That is the first report, I have read, of what is inside of these things and it doesn't sound good at all.

I will certainly try to hold back my right index finger (that is my bidding finger) whenever one of these is on eBay.  There are two of them right now.

Thanks for locating and posting that report, Ismenio.

Dick Schneiders
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Ismenio
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2005, 01:43PM »
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Well, mine went back to the box about a month ago but it was working fine till them. I would say it works about 95% of the time and it was kind of fun to see if "forget" where pieces where and knock other out of the place sometimes. But again, that was just on a few occasions but I can see how back them, buying a brand new one would not cause you a good feeling when you found out about those "features"!



Ismenio
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Mike Watters
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2005, 01:38PM »
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A very sorry tale Ismenio. I bought one of these in the middle of last year. That seemed to be the time to buy as new ones were beginning to get scarce and the Kurt Kispert article suggested that they would become sought after. When it arrived I checked and tested it and all was well. It went straight back into the box and I haven't tried to use it since.

After reading this article I am not sure that I want the excitement of seeing whether it still works. I know they have a poor reliability record, how poor I don't know. How is yours? 
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Ismenio
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2005, 11:56AM »
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Another interesting post I recovered fromt he usenet.
A review of the Mirage from Jan 1997 by Brian Daniels.
The links are no longer valid because the article is so old but it's still interesting to read his opinion.

Best,

Ismenio

-----------

Excalibur Mirage Review -- Long

   
Brian Daniels       Jan 2 1997, 12:00 am
Newsgroups: rec.games.chess.computer
From: bdani...@mercury.interpath.net (Brian Daniels) - Find messages by this author
Date: 1997/01/02
Subject: Excalibur Mirage Review -- Long

Excalibur is producing a tabletop chess computer called the Mirage
that moves its own pieces, similar to the Fidelity Chess Phantom units
of several years back.  It retails for around $450.00.  A picture of
the unit with more details can be seen at
http://www.ICDchess.com/chescomp/mirage.html

I purchased one of these units through The Sharper Image.  Here is
what I found:

The first thing I noted when unpacking the unit was the prominent
'Made in China' stickers on the side of the box.  Upon opening the
box, you find the Mirage base, a bag of chess pieces, an ac adapter,
and instructions.

The unit did not look too good.  The top of the unit had a long
scratch down the right hand side of the plastic, and the Mirage logo
was partially peeled off.  Not a good first impression.

The unit has a locking screw in the bottom that keeps the positioning
mechanism still in transit.  This must be removed before using the
unit, and there is a large sticker on the top of the unit to warn you
of this.

The pieces are very light, with a small magnet in the base of each
one.

I set up the unit and began to play.  The mechanism was quite noisy,
generating a thunk-thunk-thunk continuously while moving pieces.  The
movement itself is quite interesting to watch, with pieces zig-zagging
around each other to get to their appointed squares.  Captured pieces
are moved off to the sides of the board to holding areas. 

The board is touch-sensitive.  The manual states that you can enter
moves by pressing down on the top of a piece.  In practice, I found
this doesn't work.  You either need to use the edge of the piece base
or your fingertip if you want reliable registration of moves.

The only display on the unit is a basic LCD that gives moves in
notation, and short messages such as 'uLose'.

At any point during or after a game, you can press setup and the board
will reset all the pieces to their starting positions.  You can also
take back moves, have the unit rate the current positions, get hints,
etc.  If the unit is turned off, play is suspended and the current
positions are kept.  The unit can run off of batteries, but the manual
recommends using the adapter.

Now for the problems:
During play, I soon found that whenever the unit captured a piece of
mine that needed to go to the lower-right hand corner of the storage
area, the piece would get partially there, then grind to a halt.  The
display would show 'Stall'.  The unit would also seem to occasionally
'lose track' of pieces.  For example, after a game I would tell it to
re-setup the board.  After the reset, all of the pieces would be in
place - except one bishop that would have been inexplicably left in
the holding area.

The combination of these problems, coupled with the scratch and label
defects mentioned before, lead me to think that I might have gotten a
display model that had seen some abuse.  I returned the unit to The
Sharper Image and was shipped a replacement.

Unit #2 looked better.  Labels attached, no scratches.  I removed the
locking screw, set up the pieces, and prepared to play.

No dice.  Unit #2 couldn't move any of it's pieces.  It just made a
grinding noise, followed by the 'Stall' display.

At this point, I decided to get a look at what was going on inside the
Mirage.  The base is held on by several screws, which I removed.  I
carefully opened the unit a small amount, and peered in with a
flashlight, fearing a SPROING! and a cloud of flying parts. 

No need to worry.  Nothing complex here.  There is a ribbon cable on
the right-hand front corner that needs to be gently unplugged during
opening, and some other cables on the left side that should be handled
with care but otherwise opening the unit is easy.

Inside you will find the following layout:  (please excuse the ASCII
art)

------------------------------
      +
      +
      0
      +
      +
+++++++++++++++++++

+++  = worm screws
----  = rail
  0    = electromagnet

The unit has two worm screws, one for left-right motion, one for
up-down motion.  On these rides a trolley with an electromagnet that
rubs against the bottom of the board.  By driving both motors at the
same time, the trolley can be made to move diagonally. 

The worm screws are driven by two cheap little DC motors that have
optical encoders on them to allow the system to sense the
electromagnet position.  Note that these are NOT stepper motors, just
50 cent DC 'toy' motors.

The 'brains' of the unit are contained on a single circuit board under
the front panel, with a single CPU IC on it.  This board also supports
the buttons and the LCD display.

On my unit, a little blob of grease had developed on the worm screws
from shipping.  The motors were so weak that they could not push the
trolley through this, thus the 'Stall' message.  By hand-rotating the
worm screws, I was able to smooth out the grease and restore the unit
to operating.

Unfortunately, even after getting the unit running, I still had the
sort of problems encountered with unit #1.  Pieces would get 'lost'
occasionally.  Worse, I was attempting to promote a pawn to queen in a
game.  I followed the instructions to move the pawn to the eighth
rank, then select the new piece.  Result: display suddenly showed
garbage, then slowly faded to blank.  Unit was locked up cold and had
to have it's 'All Clear' reset pressed, losing all game data.

Overall conclusions:

The concept is great.  It's really neat to be playing a computer that
moves it's own pieces.  The logic that determines the path a piece
must follow to weave through a crowded board is amazing to watch, and
a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the execution is terrible.  The overall focus behind
the unit seems to have been 'cheap as possible', as is reflected in
using toy motors that aren't strong enough for the weight of the
trolley.  The use of optically encoded cheap motors instead of
steppers is also probably the cause of the 'lost pieces' due to
slippage in the mechanism.  The CPU seems to have some bugs, with the
potential for crashing the whole game.  Having the unit constructed in
China probably does not help quality control either, but again the
problems here are of design.

For how it is constructed, it costs way too much.  Excalibur has got
to making out like bandits on these units.  For $450 dollars, one
should get a reliable unit, not something that has to be tinkered with
just to get basic operation.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone owning one of the Milton Bradley
Grandmasters or the Fidelity Chess Phantom as to whether those units
were better constructed than the modern variant.

--Brian

Brian Daniels                  | Gremlins squashed, bit-buckets emptied,
bdani...@mercury.interpath.net  | webs woven&patched, cables untangled,
My opinions, not Interpath's    | users placated (extra fee), demons summoned
//www.interpath.net/~bdaniels/  | & dispelled, hacks while you wait! 
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Dick Schneiders
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2005, 08:47AM »
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I noticed that auction this morning and emailed the seller asking if the Mirage actually works!  He says it is new and has never been used, and I know that quite a few of these did not work properly out of the box.  I will be curious as to what he says.

Dick Schneiders
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2005, 08:19AM »
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Here's an auction to watch:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rd=1&item=5956559055&ssPageName=STRK:MEWA:IT

I just noticed something. I think I've noticed a pattern in those auctions where the seller mentions the Phantom and MB models! I don't remember seeing that in the ones sold from the begining up to close to the end of last year.
Hmmmm....

Ismenio
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2005, 01:19PM »
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I agree with your words Dick.
If we had already built a community here, we could start a pool to do a very informal survey asking people if they would buy a revamped Mirage. I think we have the technology! We can rebuild the Mirage, better than it was before! Stepper motors and better parts would be essential but I have a feeling it would sell.

Ismenio
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Dick Schneiders
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Re:Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2005, 07:59PM »
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I think that any updated Mirage would have to be significantly improved mechanically for it to have any interest from most people.  Even me, who is very new to the dedicated chess computer frenzy, is aware of the lousy track record of the Mirage to hold up over time.  If they could make such a machine, without the need to increase the price all that much, I think there would be *some* interest, but probably not enough to bring the company any serious return on their investment.  The playing strength of the Mirage is strong enough that it would be of interest to very good players.  Dedicated computers have enough inherent advantages over the PC format, that there still should be a small market for a decent machine.  Whether it is enough to warrant an expensive new design, though, is doubtful.

I would buy one, but I am a bit dotty. 

Dick Schneiders
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Mirage Robotic Chess - a revival?
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2005, 04:51PM »
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I knew about two sites where you could buy them until some time ago. One was a Israeli chess store which still has it listed for $300.00: http://www.slavchess.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=5&products_id=68&PHPSESSID=213a351b95c052f72b29118024bbf84d

And the other one this USA based one for $164.75: http://www.log2shop.com/702e.html

Problem is, they're both out of stock! With the recent skyrocketing prices they fetched on eBay, I was wondering, wouldn't it be time for Excalibur to think about a “Mirage II”?
TV networks have brought back even canceled shows so isn't it time an an improved Mirage?
Would there be a demand for it?

Ismenio
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