|MONROI AND I|
|Written by Zeljka on Tue, Mar 25 2008 (20:46)|
We are often asked about challenges that our engineering team faced in designing the MonRoi system. My parents knew that I was up to something when I grabbed to read the entire collection of Franz Kafka at 12 years old. Here we go... From paper scoresheets to wireless, portable, electronic chess managers.
Pesky MonRoi PCM Requirements
1) Operate from a single battery charge for at least 10 hours;
2) Wireless reach of min 300 meters for live chess webcast*;
3) Secure operating system, to disallow code modifications for cheating purposes;
4) Secure mode of operation while recording chess moves;
5) Secure communication protocol between player devices and a central hub;
6) Portability: hand-held devices, which are easy to carry;
7) Compliance with FCC & CE** requirements;
8) Compliance with the laws of chess (USCF, FIDE, ECU)***;
The requirements made by the various chess committees was that this device must do everything short of making a coffee.
Lesson learned: Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.
Trap Called Impossible
The MonRoi PCM development team faced rigorous demands for device space, weight, cost, wireless range and power consumption. It was apparent that no widely used operating system could be employed in a satisfactory way. None of them was well suited for ultra low-power operation. Even more evident was the absence of solutions suitable to reducing the power in wireless sensor network (WSN)**** environment. New system-level software solution needed to be developed with wireless networking at its core. IEEE 802.11-, 802.15.1- and 802.15.4-based wireless Tx/Rx and protocols did not meet our requirements for a minimum of 300 meter range where consumed energy is a very precious resource. Creation of a cost-effective system with extended battery life, extended reach in wireless devices represented a significant challenge that we addressed through a combination of network protocol, hardware, and software techniques. Endless times we were told by illustrious experts that our objectives are unreachable, and that what we were trying to do was impossible.
Lesson learned: Don’t let the illustrious turkeys keep you down.
Software or Hardware
We were ready to skip all this hardware design, which at the end generated a lot of intellectual property and patent, in exchange for a simple live chess webcast software development. Live games are fun, while managing manufacturing could be complex and a real pain. However, no adequate chess notation was available (paper only), and electronic boards do not meet portability, battery-operation and wireless range requirements. MonRoi’s founder lost her old paper scoresheets, mixed up French and English notation at the 2002 Canadian Open Chess Tournament, did not have time info next to each move (which was irritating), and spent hours in transcribing her handwriting into electronic files. Someone had to make secure electronic chess notation at some point, and we decided it may as well be us.
Lesson learned: Imagination is more important than knowledge.
It took an “acquired” taste to like the first MonRoi PCM prototype, which was this brick-size square with a monochrome display. To power on the device, it took a skillful mechanical wiz to go around the battery placement. We were very pleased about technology achievements, but users don’t exactly examine hardware and software. Some people did not love this version. We wondered why.
Lesson learned: Smarts are important, but looks get you further.
MonRoi hired industrial designers, who proposed several cool solutions, and we went for a modern black and white look, which resembles chessboard colors. The majority of chess players like this one. I personally preferred the pink cover, and was promised one day to get at the very least a pink faceplate, which was pushed out due to other priorities. But still, I am looking forward to walk in the tournament room with my pink MonRoi faceplate and play some serious chess (on my vacation).
Lesson learned: Client’s wishes, unfortunately, have priority over mine.
We Made It
1) operates from a single battery charge for at least 10 hours;
2) has reach of min 300 meters for live chess webcast;
3) has secure operating system, to disallow code modifications for cheating purposes- proprietary;
4) operates in secure mode while recording chess moves;
5) has secure communication protocol - proprietary;
6) is portable: hand-held devices, which are easy to carry;
7) complies with FCC & CE requirements;
8) complies with the laws of chess;
9) has smooth manufacturing runs.
Lesson learned: It’s easy to be an overnight success, after years of work.
Today, MonRoi’s portal is used for live webcast of chess tournaments from around the world, notably USA, Canada, Mexico, India, Europe and Australia. MonRoi undertook, organized and executed the world’s first International Women’s Chess Grand-Prix, with 7 qualifying host countries and finale in Montreal in collaboration with the European Chess Union, Quebec Chess Federation and Chess’n Math. I visited at least 15 countries in the last two years carrying around the PCMs, and met some great and interesting people. Travelling is not as exotic as one may think. I see airports, hotels and tournament rooms mostly. But I was allowed a day off after each tournament, which came in handy after a week of 15-hour day schedule (at least that’s what I tell my boss). My experience with MonRoi is a magical quest to do something good and lasting. It’s fun too. Hundreds of people assisted MonRoi at various stages, and we are thankful to the chess community for openness and continuous feedback.
Lesson learned: My country is the world.
*Webcasting is “broadcasting” over the Internet. As a broadcast may either be live or recorded, similarly, a webcast may either be distributed live or recorded.
**CE Certification is mandatory for products intended for sale or placed into service in Europe. Products are tested against a range of requirements.
***Chess Federations. USCF– United States Chess Federation. FIDE- World Chess Federation. ECU- European Chess Union.
****A wireless sensor network (WSN) is a wireless network consisting of spatially distributed devices using sensors to cooperatively perform control or monitoring functions. A typical sensor network device comprises the following components some of which are optional: power supply, microcontroller, wireless communication, sensor, local memory storage, and real time clock systems.
MonRoi licensed the WSN technology from Innovative Design R&D Company.