How these electronics engineers combine technology and chess to revolutionize the board game industry
In 2013, electronics engineers Aatur Mehta and Bhavya Gohil were struck by a unique problem. The president of the National Association of the Blind (NAB) contacted them to find out if they could design a chess board for the visually impaired, play against AI because it is not possible for them to play the game on computers and smartphones. It was the president’s need for a chess board for the visually impaired that led the duo to build Square Off.
âAs board game enthusiasts, we just dove in to explore the possibilities. We researched relentlessly to finally come up with a design. However, we did not have funds. It was then that an idea struck us, âsays Aatur. Your story.
The duo founded Infivention technology in September 2015 based in Mumbai. Their first product is the Square chess board – an intelligent and connected chess board powered by AI and controlled via an application where the pieces move by themselves.
Founders of Square Off
How it works?
Square chess, a physical chessboard, is connected to its application (available on Android and iOS) which allows users to play against the chessboard or against anyone from around the world. Opponents don’t even need to have the Square Off chessboard but just the app. You can be seated anywhere in the world, but you can still move the pieces of your Square Off chess board.
The chessboard is powered by a robotic arm, which is placed under the chessboard and equipped with an electromagnet. The parts also have electromagnets under their bases. When the move is made on the app, your smartphone sends the signal via Bluetooth to the robotic arm, which then moves under the board, taking the designated part with it. Essentially, your opponent’s movement on the app is mimicked on your board.
When the opponent makes his move on the app, he can be seen playing on the Square Off board with the selected piece sliding across the board.
The duo, however, needed the money to build the product. They began to participate in various technical document presentations and technology competitions at the national level to win prizes, just to create the prototype.
âLittle by little, we raised enough money to design our first prototype in 2014. And it worked. The visually impaired NAB president himself tested the prototype and loved playing on it. We have presented it at many national exhibitions and have received an excellent reception, âexplains Aatur.
Build the products
They created four more prototypes and visited several events to get as much feedback as possible, as they were more board game enthusiasts than chess players. It was important to understand the characteristics that would really turn a chess player on.
âWe were invited to present the prototype at all IITs in India, then at MIT Boston FAB 11, Startup Istanbul and Sharjah Chess Club. After three years of hard work, our beta product was ready in May 2016. To test the product and assess the response, we produced a small batch of Square Off Collector’s Edition decks and sold 20 high quality specially designed decks in one drop. time, âsays Aatur.
The next step was to develop the mechanisms for large-scale production. The goal was clear: get the best price without compromising the quality of the board. However, the challenge was to find a manufacturer that would offer a combination of technology and luxury. In other words, advanced software and hardware perfectly integrated into a premium wood surface.
Get manufacturing and sales off the ground
âAt the end of July 2016, we traveled to Shenzhen, China, to explore manufacturing possibilities. Shenzhen, being the electronics hub of the world, offered the technical expertise we were looking for without too much trouble. But finding a lumber merchant was not that easy. After a lot of research, we luckily came across a dealer capable of supplying the desired quality of wood, âexplains Aatur.
In November 2016, their perseverance finally paid off when they managed to collect 2,000 pre-orders as well as a fundraising amount of $ 535,000 through a crowdfunding campaign based in the United States.
Right now, Square Off is collecting orders through its website with Amazon. Square Off is also present in large retail stores like Best Buy, Sharaf DG Dubai and B8ta stores in the United States.
Square Off has sold over 25,000 boards, timed $ 7 million in revenue and raised $ 1.6 million in equity investors like Kstart Capital, India Quotient and RB Capital. He received the CES 2017 award, Innovation Award – CES 2018 and Innovative product – Indiegogo 2018.
Aatur adds that the average grip quotient for Square Off board users is around 26.17%. The most engaging games (all categories combined) exceed the 25% threshold. He adds that they aim to cross 30% by the end of 2020.
Revenue is generated through the sale of products and in-app purchases. They are also planning to launch a subscription model for their AI-based chess trainer Viktor.
Prices for Square Off products are as follows – Kingdom Set – $ 399, Grand Kingdom Set – $ 449, Square Off Neo – $ 199, and Square Off Swap – $ 249.
The market and the future
According to Value Market Research, the global board game market is valued at $ 4.6 billion. Space startups include the online marketplace – Bored Game Company, Boardway, and Boardgamegeek. However, these don’t focus much on the creative space.
The duo’s vision is to enable connected play on a single card. To this end, they built Square Off Neo, a product that is lighter, more compact and more economical. It offers silent movements and precision mechanics; is packed with features, has smooth contours and a cooler design. And yes, it doesn’t need you to press the coins. It will be priced at $ 199.
âWith the vision to revolutionize board games, we’ve created a product that will change the way people think about board games. The SwapBoard, along with all Square Off Neo upgrades, features multiple games that you can swap between, on the same checkerboard surface. With the SwapBoard, we are bringing board games back like never before – with globally connected gameplay, sleek, modern design and a selection of games, âsays Aatur.
For starters, SwapBoard will launch with four games, Chess, Checkers, 4 in a row and Halma. It will be followed by four more matches within six months of delivery. It will support Blitz Chess, which is the most popular form of chess in the community.
âWe aim to create a patented technology platform, which can be licensed to board game companies, open source users and brands to create their own games and concepts,â he adds. The team is now looking to bring to market Square Off Neo, SWAP, a multiplayer board game, and Ghost, a professional electronic chess board.
They also add Square Off ‘Viktor’, an edtech platform for the whole mix. Projecting a multidimensional educational approach (audio-video, tactile, blackboard, internet) via the application, the team creates Smart piano, (a learning tool for children), and Swap X, an interchangeable surface gaming platform, with patented square technology, which can also be used for licensing.