Bhavya Gohil and Aatur Mehta met when they entered the K.J Somaiya College of Engineering. To make a general statement, most of the freshers at engineering colleges in India are either scraping for grades or trying to come to terms with the fact that they’re already into an engineering institute. But there is a bunch which enters into an engineering college for the joy and passion of it. And a conversation with Bhavya and Aatur makes you realize that they fall in this small segment.
“Along with the curriculum, we played around with various tech hacks and small projects since the first semester in our spare time,” says Bhavya over an email interview. The duo met while working at one of the councils of their college. They were always in pursuit of making something creative and innovative which also kept them in the spotlight.
“It is uncommon to see freshers work on such projects but we were glad to be put in touch with RiiDL - the research lab of Somaiya Vidyavihar,” recollects Bhavya. RiiDL is Somaiya Vidyavihar’s innovation centre and accelerator which is focused on creating groups who work on solving real world problems, skill development projects and creating new ventures. This is where things really got started for the duo. “During our second year of Electronics Engineering, a few of the concept proto-types which we made at RiiDL were even featured at events held at Maker Faire - Rome, Godrej, Capgemini, Wassup Andheri, IIT Bombay, and IIT Kharagpur. The positive feedback from these events is what encouraged us to continue,” says Aatur.
The idea was to make board games more interactive and also retain the physical feel of board games. Being big fans of chess, the duo decided to first build an automated chess board. Chess Automated is basically an interactive chess board on which any person can play the game of chess against a computer, retaining the physical feel of chess.
Initially, the project intended to build an automated chess board for the visually impaired. Over time, the scope widened. “We visited NAB (National Association of Blind) and interacted with players getting to know about how they play and the challenges faced by them,” says Bhavya. In about four months, they made a concept prototype, which got a lot of attention within the Maker community and there was a lot of interest from chess lovers and tech enthusiasts. The team was fully loaded with feedback and suggestions for adding features.
The current version is ready for manufacturing. The first destination was, of course, China but this complicated logistics and quality measures for them. “Instead, we decided that all the manufacturing would be done in India, which gives a proud feeling of supporting #MakeInIndia campaign. We decided to start a small assembly line at our lab to ensure maximum quality output. Being an early startup, this would really help us build a lasting relation with our customers,” says Aatur.
Starting from their early talks with NAB in around mid 2013, the team has built four prototypes. This project needed engineering from various fields, and being from the electronics background, the project was fun and challenging for the founders. They first started with the electronics angle, moved on to the mechanical piece and then the automation parts. Since their initial display and launch at Maker Faire Rome last October, Chess Automated has received lot of interest from the premium segment customers - airport lounges, resorts, club houses of societies, cafes and hotels.
This has put the duo on full throttle to deliver the best. “We have also received lot of customization requests from chess clubs, and this got us started working on R&D of our next line of products too!” says Bhavya. The game will be manufactured in small batches first. Apart from the physical board, the game also supports online game-play via which the duo wants to build a community around it so that the users can play against their friend/opponent sitting anywhere in the world.
The world of hardware in India is getting very exciting. Moving forward from the flurry in 2014, we’re seeing efforts from numerous startups and maker spaces across the country in this sector. Here’s to more of #makeinindia.
Website: Chess Automated and you can get in touch with them at firstname.lastname@example.org
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