Back in Dec ‘18, when the NGO Samarthanam visited us, we were filled with awe, looking at the expertise of their visually challenged volunteers in using computers and mobile phones. They were able to use them just like anyone with normal vision. This inspired us to think of a product which can leverage their dexterity in using electronic gadgets. In the introduction talk they stressed that they were looking for a solution which is for everyone. Where a visually challenged person does not feel at a disadvantage, when playing with a normally sighted person.
Board games are one of the most popular leisure activities for people of all ages. Samarthanam had already demonstrated to us how they played chess, and the requirement for a special slotted board for the same, so that the players don’t accidentally displace the chess pieces. What this meant that, if they were to play other board games like snake & ladder, Ludo etc. they would need specially manufactured board for each of them. “What is the workaround?” we thought. That’s when we got the idea of a configurable board games.
The idea is to use a common board for all the games. The only thing that would change is a layer of stencil on top of the screen. By stencil, we mean a layer of plastic with slots that can provide a sense of feedback, when the player is trying to move the pieces from one square to another. The game would actually be displayed on the touch-enabled LCD screen, interfaced with a micro-processor. So, a normally sighted person can play and enjoy the game equally.
The game rules are coded in a program which is loaded into the micro-processor, which would act as a moderator throughout the duration of the game. The base of the game pieces is made up of touch sensitive material. When the game begins, both player start from a known state. On the roll of dice (press of the button in our case), each player is expected to go to the respective slot. When the player places the piece on the touchscreen, its location is detected, and compared with its expected location, as calculated by the moderator (our program). The game moves to next turn, only when the pieces are in correct position.
The main advantage of having game as a software is, we can rearrange the board for each new round, so the positions of snake and ladder could change with every round!, beating the monotonicity of a regular board game. Secondly, to switch to another game like monopoly, the player only needs to change the stencil and load a new board (software). Shown below is our proposed model:
Image 1: Proposed Model
Currently we are finishing up with the implementation of Snake and Ladders game, doing few tweaks to make the experience identical to a conventional board games. We are looking at other board games like Monopoly for future implementation.
Here are the components we are using. A power supply module, interface boards, few buttons, a microcontroller, and the touch screen. We haven’t interfaced the LCD yet, that’s in the works. The wires are disconnected, the components rearranged, and a few filters applied to make for a nicer picture.
Image 2: Components
Let us know if you are interested in this project and would like to be a part of it, or give some suggestions for improvement. Thanks for reading!
Alok Singh Thakur
Frank, Thanks for showing interest in this project. Yes, the primary idea what we’ve started with is exactly which you’ve mentioned – to aid hassle free positioning/movement of pieces and spot checking of piece type.
Having said that – we’ve also explored the other aspect of bringing a visually challenged player at the same level of a normal one in terms of quick, accurate and vivid board state awareness in strategy rich games like chess. We thought of adopting an audio readout of the all/specific pieces/board-positions after every move. And the other option - with flat engraved pieces, slotted in the stencil just hover both the palms on the board, feel it and readout. The audio feedback option can be little difficult to adapt, to build a full board picture in mind with incremental but accurate information over comparatively longer time. The latter option would be quicker but again it’ll take time/practice to quickly distinguish various pieces/positions. The best option could be a mix of both – touch pieces to get the broad picture quickly and then selectively get audio feedback to confirm if in doubt.
We’re very much open to all novel solution. Feel free to share your thought.
I am curious about the level of visual impairment that is to be addressed by this solution. That is, whether this tool is to aid fine positioning of pieces and spot checking of piece type, or if it is to be the primary source of the broad understanding of the board state. For games with very simple topology and limited interconnections like snakes& ladders or even Monopoly this may matter little, but for games with many positions and complex positional relationships (chess, checkers, Go) this is a critical question. In these latter cases the game board unburdens the player who need not keep all these relationships in their mind to make decisions.There may be some newer, less common games that are strategically rich but are not quite so dependent of on so many positional relationships that could still use a solution like this to aid in piece positioning and recognition.