Blog - Sketching with Hardware

Team 1 – Pawntatonic

Published on: | Author: Sonia Patlán | Categories: 2015a, Projects


„PawnTatonic“, the Chess Sequencer

PawnTatonic is a custom made chess game in an elegant black and white design that works at the same time as a step sequencer.  You can not only play a game of chess but also make music with it, either during the game or on stage, underlining the atmospheric beeps with spectacular light effects from deep red LEDs. It adds a fancy and sophisticated look to every place you put it and makes everyone gaze in awe and you can not only change the speed of the melody but also change from pentatonic scale to a standard major C-Scale. Price on application.

How it came to life

When we first heard about the theme of this year’s course “sketching with hardware”, we couldn’t hold back our enthusiasm. Both having a musical background, we barely couldn’t stop our excitement and all the crazy Ideas that came to our minds. We wandered from the Idea of gloves that interpret colours to sound (already exist) to gloves that react to organic surface (soon to come) to something that should definitely be inspired by the Tonematrix, a wonderful little step sequencer you can only find on the internet because until now it never existed as a real instrument. The idea of combining it with a chessboard came just a few minutes later. Especially the perfect fit of eight to eight fields and the dramatical use of sound during a game of chess inspired us to design the concept of the PawnTatonic.

Having help from the LED-Matrix tutorial from Arduino, we had a quite straightforward imagination how the project would work and what we had to do. Everything seemed easy.

We made a test setup with some cardboard, wires and an LED to check, if it would be possible to get a feedback, if a figure was standing on a specific field by closing the circuit on the board with the bottom of the figure while letting an LED blink and a sound play. And the idea worked! And we were happy!
So the next task was to find a fitting chess game, we could misuse for our purposes. But after examining the tiny chess figures in every second hand shop in munich, we realized that they were simply to small for the things we wanted them to stuff with, which was an LED, a resistor, wires and a connection on the bottom. So we came to the decision to make our very own 3D models of chess figures and to print them with the 3D printer at the Amalienstraße. Luckily this worked out extremely well. The only drawback was that the the printing process took pretty long so we stuck with the idea of making a chess game just with pawn figures. It’s pawn chess!

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While printing the figures, we started on the chessboard which was completely self-made. The wood was first sawed, then painted and nailed together to get a more or less unitary and not so self-made look. Since every one of the 64 fields needed wires, we soldered about 200 wires and 400 solder joints. Minimum! It is a small wonder, that we didn’t get completely high on the soldering fumes…
And then, after soldering two connections on ever single field and neatly organizing them on the bottom of the board, we realized that the LED on a figure only would glow, if there was an additional connection to ground. So… we had to open up the board again and add 64 more connections (we used small nails that also would stick to a magnet on the bottom of each figure) and to wire and solder them together. Again. But at this point we already were so efficient with a routine we had practised in our dreams, moving the soldering iron between hundreds of wires on the smallest of spaces, that it took us almost no time at all. Well. At least we didn’t have to do night shifts.

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But our biggest challenge throughout the process was to get a good connection between the figures and the board, which we could not completely master until the last day. After trying a lot of different techniques, the one which worked out best, was the first one we had in mind (as always…). For that we used the copper tape on the bottom of the figures and glued the little magnets into the middle. Again much detailed work on 16 figures, containing soldering and arranging a certain amount of wires. But still some figures would not connect so perfectly well, only after applying some pressure most of them finally triggered the signal. The fact, that we had four fields that were not working and a little bug regarding the figures set on one row did not stop us, the basic principle worked great and so we were able to proudly present our project to all the others. Almost.

Because… the highest level of drama was reached on the last day, only one hour before the presentation, when we were drilling into the finished chessboard (just for the potentiometer that controls the speed aka. beats per minute) and by accident destroying half of the wires inside of it. Heart attack! But very fortunately it could be fixed within half an hour (this may have to do with the fact, that we hat quite some practise with soldering…) and we could do the last finishing steps before the presentation, just in time!

Watch here the fabulous PawnTatonic:


Final Setup

Hardware: board and figures

Each of the 64 fields has three connections [1],[2] and [3].
[1] and [2] are used to check, if there is a connection between the field and the chess figure and are connected with two pins on the Arduino. The first pin sends an input signal and if it is received on the second pin, it indicates that a figure is standing on the field an a tone is played.
[3] is connected to ground on the Arduino to make the LED of the chess figure glow.

The fields on the board are arranged into 8 columns and 8 rows to have a clear overview of the wires and to navigate between the single fields.
The wire from every column are soldered to one big wire that connects to a pin on the board. Same goes for the rows.

The connections are checked column by column, which goes with the idea of a step sequencer. The current goes through all pins in one column and returns a signal to the pin on each row[2] where a connection is made by a figure.

The chess figure itself contains an LED, a resistor and a tiny magnet which helps the figure to get a grip to the connections on the board. On the bottom of the figure there is a small circle made of copper foil which connects [1] and [2] on the board. The outer circle is used to create a connection to [3].

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Fritzing Design of the Arduino

Here is a view of the Arduino Mega – the chess board and the figures are depicted by the breadboard on the right, using an example of three “fields” with Figures instead of 64.



Arduino program:



linked categories 2015a, Projects


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