Autonomous Chess Robot; A Case for the Right to Repair Movement in the United States

Jelesko, Eli, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec & Comp Engr Dept, University of Virginia

This portfolio consists of a technical capstone project, a STS (Science Technology and Society)
research paper, and a prospectus for the research paper. The technical project and research paper
are only tangentially connected in their subject matter. While both involve the use of embedded
computing, the technical project demonstrates how it can be used beneficially to create an
educational tool and the research paper describes how it can be used to negatively impact choice
in consumer electronics, this connection was not intentional and is the the central focus of either
document. Both projects were selected in accordance with the author’s interests. The technical
project for its challenge and relation to robotics, while the research paper describes a pressing
social interest facing the United States today.

For the technical capstone project, my team and I developed an autonomous chess playing robot
capable of playing an intelligent game against a human opponent. The robot consisted of a
stepper motor driven gantry system controlled by a custom PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and
embedded microcontroller directed by the Stockfish chess engine. An array of magnetic reed
switches embedded in a custom chess board allows the robot to detect where is opponent has
placed their pieces and autonomously respond. The robot would continue the game until
checkmate, stalemate, or a player’s resignation. The system was capable of handling the common
chess actions like taking and moving pieces, as well as the less common actions such as
queening or capturing en passant. Once a move had been detected and the player indicated they
were safely out of the way, the move would be transmitted to the Stockfish engine for review.
Once a response had been calculated, the embedded code calculated the sequence of motor
commands to move to the piece, grab it, move it to its desired location, and place it back down
before returning to a position off the board. These commands were executed as quickly as
possible, utilizing a trapezoidal motion profile to reduce the affects of acceleration while moving
at a high velocity, and was accurate over 95% of the time. The complete ensemble created an
excellent autonomous framework that can be applied to any pick and place task.

The STS research paper examines the Right to Repair movement in the United States; the
technical and economic landscape that spawned it, how repair has evolved, the technical and
legal challenges facing repair, and finally some proposed solutions to these challenges. While
companies have been designing frustratingly difficult to repair products for centuries, it was not
until recently that both technological developments in embedded computing and copyright law
combined to make repair both a technological and legal challenge. By adding Digital Rights
Management (DRM) software to common components like batteries or screens, manufacturers
have been able to prevent consumers from repairing their own devices and prevent tinkerers from
finding clever solutions to repair their devices. Under current US law, it is illegal to attempt to
bypass this DRM software, thus creating a monopoly around a products repair. Right to repair
seeks to pass legislation allowing tinkerers, consumers, and independent repair businesses to
legally repair devices and to require manufacturers to provide documentation for the repair of
their products.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
robot, robotics, chess, right to repair, repair, autonomous, monopoly

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Joshua Earle
Technical Team Members: Keenan Alchaar, Nick Cooney, Gabriela Portillo

Issued Date: