Not just any board game

New technology revolutionizes low-tech mediums

School of Computing Professor Roel Vertegaal says the technology could be adapted for textiles and human bodies.
School of Computing Professor Roel Vertegaal says the technology could be adapted for textiles and human bodies.

Missing Monopoly money and checker pieces could be a thing of the past. A new technology out of Queen’s Human Media lab could change the way people play board games.

School of Computing associate professor Roel Vertegaal and student Mike Rooke, BSc ’06 and M.Sc ’09, developed an electronic version of the game Settlers of Catan. With their technology, images are projected onto the game’s hexagonal pieces.

Settlers of Catan is a multiplayer board game where players create settlements, cities and roads and collect and trade resources with the goal of establishing colonies on the island of Catan.

“A couple of years ago, maybe two, we started working on this idea that, you know, we could have these flexible screens that are very, very thin that you could essentially create all shapes and sizes out of that you could affix to cardboard for example,” Vertegaal said. “If you moved the paper around and folded it, it would recognize your gestures.”

Vertegaal presented the technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. last week to positive reception.

He said the technology is especially useful for a game like Settlers of Catan, which takes longer to set up due to its numerous cards and playing pieces.

Vrtegaal’s electronic game uses a computer, an infrared camera, an overhead projector and thin hexagonal tiles of cardboard with infrared marker. Players can move and trade their resources by connecting the tiles and watching their resources move between them.

By connecting tiles game characters walk between tiles, tilt them and characters invade for war.

Animations on tiles would show lumberjacks cutting down trees, buildings being constructed or soldiers invading villages.

“It allows you to pick up the tiles and do stuff with them,” Vertegaal said. “It’s unlike monopoly where you have one big board.”

Vertegaal said the technology could be adapted for textiles or even human bodies.

“You could project a CT scan right on the skin of a person while you’re doing pre-op procedures,” he said.

“This technology is starting to become quite feasible and this year we’ve got very good funding from very good sources.”

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