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Correspondence gaming in the digital age

In today’s high-tech world, playing an international game of chess in your living room is nothing to get excited about — that is, if the board is on your computer screen. But what if the board is actually a physical object sitting on your table?

“We wanted to bring back the original look and feel of correspondence chess,” said Joseph Dynes, E’12. Dynes is one of seven electrical and computer engineering students who designed a system called Board Games over IP for a senior capstone project, which won second place in this year’s ECE Capstone Design Competition.

Playing a game of chess on BGoIP is a bit like playing with a ghost. One player moves his piece, then magnetic sensors on the under side of the board detect the new location and turn it into an electric signal, which is transmitted over the Internet to his opponent’s board. When the opponent plays his move, a piece is “elegantly ushered” across your board, a few — or a few thousand — miles away.

“It’s mysteriously awesome,” said Dynes, echoing a sentiment shared by several thousand viewers of the BGoIP You Tube video.

“Successful Capstone groups are always obsessed with their projects,” he added, noting that his team spent hundreds of hours designing, implementing and optimizing the device.

After settling on an initial design, the student-researchers had to test each individual component, said team member Matt Zabatta, E’12. “This included controlling the motors with our software, attaching the motor system to the rails so that they could slide in a manner we designed, and settling on an electromagnet strength that was strong enough to grab our magnetic chess pieces over a 1-inch gap,” he explained.

The students spent dozens of hours hand wiring the circuitry required to detect and move the pieces and dozens more testing their handiwork. “The biggest challenge we faced was calibrating the magnetic pieces to be detected properly,” said Scott Bielski, E’12.

The team’s faculty advisor, electrical and computer engineering professor Waleed Meleis, said the students had to solve a series of difficult technical problems. They had to figure out, for example, “how to make the board surface modular to allow multiple games to be created, move pieces smoothly and reliably, and connect players online.”

The team has filed a patent application through Northeastern and hopes to commercialize the product. “Ideally we’d like to explore the idea of BGoIP as a business venture either independently or through some other company,” said Zabatta.