Monster Chess is a large-scale collaborative chess-playing robot, based on LEGO’s MINDSTORMS NXT brick. It was created by a core team of five people (Steve Hassenplug, John Brost, Ron McRae, Bryan Bonahoom, and Jenn Wagner, all members of the MCP program) with the assistance of many others. Each square on the board is built using a large LEGO baseplates, resulting in a board that is about 12.5’ on a side; each of the 32 pieces is an autonomous robot, built around an NXT, that can navigate across the board based on color sensors detecting the edges of the squares as well as colorful identification marks in the center of each square. Everything you see is built of unmodified LEGO, exactly the same as you can buy in the store.
Coordinating the game itself is a laptop that can plan moves, moderate human-human games, play either or both sides as a computer opponent, or reproduce historical games and chess puzzles. Running a custom C# program, it interfaces with a standard chess engine to do this in addition to supervising all the pieces. The laptop determines what is to move, and instructs the robot pieces where to go using a Bluetooth connection, and can speed things up by commanding several robots to move simultaneously (for instance, to allow diagonal moves, or in resetting the board). Many of the pieces also have animations that they can perform – for example, the knight moves its hooves, and the rook can fire a cannon at the enemy king to deliver check. The robot pieces themselves are programming in National Instruments LabVIEW, and can manage things like monitoring their own battery voltage (so that a robot with almost dead batteries can be swapped out automatically for a “spare” one standing by).
Monster Chess will make its first public appearance at Brickworld, a large LEGO convention in the Chicago area, Jun 18-20. It will be open to the public from 10 AM to 4 PM Saturday the 19th, and 10 AM to 3 PM Sunday the 20th. For more information, visit Brickworld
In total there are more than 100,000 individual LEGO pieces in the model, (including the board, the robots, decorations to the robots, a move entry system, and a clock). It uses 38 separate NXTs (32 pieces plus two spares, as well as an extra NXT built into each king & queen), 136 color sensors, 16 touch sensors with 4 touch sensor multiplexers, and 102 motors. Each robot runs on rechargeable batteries that last about four games on average. The approximate retail cost would probably be around $30,000.
More details about Monster Chess and the folks who made it a reality (the Robotic posse) can be found at http://www.teamhassenplug.org/monsterchess/