26 July 2015

Novag Robot Adversary

After a short break from blogging, what better way to get back in the groove than a post on Top eBay Chess Items by Price. Although it's only been a few months since the previous chess computer post -- Mephisto Portorose 68030 -- an item titled 'Novag Robot Adversary chess computer - working' caught my attention.

With a starting price of US $1.00, the machine eventually sold for $1748.48 after 24 bids from eight bidders. Of the 12 photos attached to the item, I thought the following best captured its look.

The description added,

Novag Robot Adversary - in working order. The robotic arm and the inner electronics work perfectly, however the outside is not perfect: there are small scratches and spots on the metal and plastic parts of the machine. The clean plastic dust cover is missing, the power supply is a modern switching PSU replacement (see among the pictures).

The pieces are not original, they are from another computer chess set (perhaps a Mephisto). The kings and the queens are slightly taller than the original ones, therefore the robotic arm can knock them over sometimes when moving neighbouring pieces.

The magnetic piece detection mechanism under the board may needs some contact cleaning: sometimes the detection is uncertain on some fields (the black queen's place for example). If the detection fails, a discrepancy LED lit and one have to lift and put back or slightly swing the piece until the detection is done.

Though the mechanical and electronical parts are in perfect working order, the Robot may need some maintenance due its old age. The machine contains a rechargeable battery soldered on the PCB (I think it is NiCd). I assume that the battery is the original (more than 30 year old) piece, so the replacement is recommended. Also the fine mechanical parts may need some lubrication.

A few days later 'seller added the following information',

Seems like the pieces are the original ones. Someone told me that the Robot would not work with other pieces. I tried it with several other sets and it seems to be true: I am unable to place foreign pieces in the middle of the fields due the magnetic force (maybe the polarisation of the magnets is special). I talked with the same guy and we compared the sizes of the pieces and they were the same as in the original set - the king is 55 mm tall, and the shape of the pieces is the same as well.

More info came in a Q&A.

Q: Can you tell us anything about the history of your machine? Bidders will be most curious about: * How long have you owned it, * How often/much it has been used (hours/games), * And especially has the machine ever been serviced/repaired. • A: I bought it in 2005 from a second-hand dealer, therefore I know nothing about its previous history. The machine shows the signs of heavy usage as you can see on the photos. I guess I played about hundred games on it. Cannot estimate the usage in hours. I never serviced or repaired it, or even opened it.

Chess playing robots are commonplace now -- see, for example, my 2007 post Bughouse for One -- and are often the subject of a student research project. Thirty years ago, things were different.

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