An independent project led by Ioannis (John) Kimissis, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University, on the development, visualization and marketing of a smart chessboard using a number of components, detailed drawings and complex calculations, presents all possible technical problems that need to be solved.
The chessboard operates on sensors of a rheostatic switch (an electric switch operating under the influence of a magnetic field), LEDs and a microcontroller with a magnet and is designed to be high-quality and affordable. The main idea of the design is to create a system that is easy to reproduce and interactive for the user. Using rheostatic switches to determine the position of chess pieces (self-design of the pieces), the LEDs will demonstrate the moves on the computer. Figures moved manually will be highlighted on the computer screen, then the computer makes a move, which in turn is indicated by another LED. In addition to the main function of the chessboard and the software, it can be programmed in such a way that potential errors (incorrect moves) are displayed using another system of light indicators.
The scale and ambitions of the project require constant problem solving. One of the central problems I encountered at the beginning was that the low cost and low power consumption microcontroller – ESP32 – has only 34 contacts for sending important information, however, 256 contacts are required for all rheostat switches and LED indicators to work simultaneously. At first I thought that my ambitions were wrong, that it was impossible to create such a system in such an affordable way; that I needed to make it bigger or more expensive. But I went back to what Elon Musk calls “thinking from the first principles” (that is, “the act of decomposing a process into fundamental parts that you know are true, and building from there”) and compiled a matrix of rays for each rheostatic switch using schematic diagrams. I found the best solution for the RGB matrix – after reviewing the type of technology used, I used ARGB-ribbon lamps, where each lamp can be separately controlled using a non-pixel scheme (I independently learned how to apply this code using a downloadable scheme). By breaking down each potential problem into its component parts, I was able to rethink the various elements that make up the project as small manageable dilemmas that need to be solved.
The problem was also providing power, since I needed to control all the lines, LEDs, Bluetooth, while maintaining a voltage balance. The power supply was too bulky and inconvenient to meet all these requirements and remain affordable. Similarly, the LEDs could be controlled using a driver, but that would increase the cost by $20, and I was determined to stay within the total cost of $50. Again, returning to the creative and logical requirements of the “first principles”, I managed to find alternative solutions – in particular, to develop a new electrical circuit that used two power circuits (voltage and current). By breaking down the task into its component parts, I was also able to revise the project as a whole. Maintaining a detailed spreadsheet with data on all components, references, catalog names, manufacturer and production numbers allowed me to assemble different components and provide a clear diagram so that all elements were properly soldered in place. The feeling of triumph in the face of many problems only added to the reward from the whole project.