Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

I was recently asked by a friend of mine if I and the folks behind our local DIY / maker initiative @makefurt could have a look into an older chess computer that would have some issues.

The owner – a former advertising designer here in Frankfurt who collects old movie posters and created this interesting website about it (in German) – came over today and brought this valuable robot to my place: the Novag Robot Adversary chess computer.

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer
The Novag Robot Adversary chess computer when it arrived…

A quick search on the interwebs reveals that “The Novag Robot Adversary is the most iconic of chess computers. Apparently 2000 were built but the failure rate was high and the vast majority of those sold have long since developed faults.” (src)

It’s a chess computer with a robotic arm that moves all chess pieces over a magnetic board, animating each move with an extra show. Hence it’s not just any other chess computer, but probably the coolest or most epic one out there.

According to this Wiki page, this machine cost about DM 3000 back in 1982 which is about EUR 1500 and is powered by a Z80 (CPU) from Zylog, running at 7.5 MHz, has 5 KB of RAM and a 32 KB ROM.

There’s a lot of information on this computer out there (including this Spiegel article from 1982, in German) but we’re yet to find a circuit diagram. Also, I am more the hardware guy so my first step was to completely disassemble it, clean everything (= removing nasty nicotine stains and glue from old gaffa tape) and check the wiring and the PCB for broken components:

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer
20 minutes later

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

That yellow thing looks like a battery to me. Probably needs to be replaced…

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

“Robot Adversary Main PCB” – old school! :-)

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

The motor that turns the robotic arm. Kindly note some previous repairs (badly done, imo).

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer9

s/yellow nicotine stains/soap

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

There are magnets for each position on this board (underneath).

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

We do have an owner’s manual (in German). Circuit diagram is still missing though…

Novag Robot Adversary chess computer

I’ll have another look at the robotic arm now and will then try to reassemble everything in order to keep all parts in one place and where they should be.

If you’d like to help us fix it, please feel free joining us next weekend on October 30th, 2011 from 3-5pm at the Museum für Kommunikation here in Frankfurt. Or ping us anytime at info@makefurt.de // @makefurt. All are welcome!

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