Two months ago, the Nis International 2019 Open was held and I had the chance to participate and also catch this rising star Nikola Ilić doing a presentation about an awesome idea looking forward to make organisation of tournaments a way easier. This is really impressive amount of work on a great idea and a project with really good future, hopefully it will replace the clocks used in tournaments nowadays and avoid all the problems that appear.
Q: Tell us about yourself?
A: My name is Nikola Ilić and I am a 16-year-old student from Niš, Serbia. From an early age, I was interested in programming and computers. You could always see me experimenting and working on new projects that could benefit my surroundings, which is what I saw as the most exciting part of IT. Throughout my schooling, I have received many awards for all the things I have created, but most importantly, I could see that my work is of use to someone.
Q: Are you interested into something else?
A: I am also interested in entrepreneurship. For me, it is the way of turning something that we find interesting into something that could be of benefit to people worldwide. I’d always try to make my software, apps, etc. more usable and enjoyable for everyone involved. Not so long ago, I’ve thought of creating a product that would be of widespread use and which would also be my first real big project. With careful analysis of all the things in my environment, I found out that tech is not really being used to its full potential in the world of Go. After a lot of brainstorming and hard work, my team and I are close to creating a fully fledged prototype of, what we think, could change the Go community.
Q: What’s the name of the product and can you give us general information about it ?
A: Our product is called GoSMART. It’s a digital system for organizing efficient Go tournaments that consists of 3 components. We have a smart Go clock that already has a lot more functionalities than its current counterparts, and most importantly, the ability to connect to other clocks and the internet. Our second component is a central unit, designed to streamline the boring part of what the organizers do (setting the clocks, putting in the results, match-making, publishing info…) and allow them to focus more time on things that are beneficial for their players. And last but not the least, we’ve got the cloud system, which is where all the information is stored and it’s making it possible for anyone interested to check out what’s happening on the tournament, without organizers lifting a finger!
Q: This is truly awesome ! How was it at the beginning?
A: Our original idea was to make a device that would act as a central digital hub for all mind sports enthusiasts. After multiple brainstorming sessions, our idea slowly evolved to what it is now. We went through the process of trial and error and optimized the functions of each part of the system so that we didn’t interfere too much with what going on, but to also be able to make tournaments much more futuristic.
Q: When and how did you learn to play Go?
A: My father was an avid Go player in his student days. He continued to still be engaged in the Go community as a Go teacher in our local Go school, and when I was born I was surrounded by it. I don’t remember when I learned basic rules or how to play Go. It was a natural thing for me and my sister and I think that it is a really good idea for a young kid to develop his or her mind this way.
Q: What are the benefits of playing Go in your opinion?
A: I can see from first hand how many benefits it has. Recently, I started realizing that my mind is really working differently than the other kids of my age. Go develops critical thinking, problem-solving skills and makes you think out of the box, among many others. Considering the future we are faced with, Go can teach us many important skills and lessons about life. Also, I haven’t even mentioned that it develops children intelligence which is exactly what our local Go club is focused on.
Q: What is Go for you?
A: Go has always been a method of relaxation for me and that might explain why I am still at a double-digit kyu level. It’s also a great way to travel and experience many nations and cultures. I’ve been able to practice for my German test in Austria with native speakers, so that’s also a benefit.
Q: How did you come up with this idea?
A: My friend David and I have done some more advanced programming projects. One day, we wanted to try to use our skills to create something bigger. Learning by doing has always been my preferred way of taking in new knowledge, so this was also a great way to practice more. We looked through our daily lives and where could we use tech to enhance it. I realized that, even though most of Go players are tech savvy, tech is barely used in the world of Go. With the exception of a few websites for online playing and some programs, the field was empty. As I have previously mentioned, the original idea was a central hub for everything Go related. Think Google Home or Amazon Alexa for Go. We quickly realized that it’s out of reach and that our idea had to adapt. Because I have experience going to different tournaments, both big and small, and that we are organizing a big tournament in Niš, I know how much trouble they can cause to the organizers. Also, the information flow could be improved. Considering all of that, our goal was to create something tech-related that would make tournaments much better both for players and organizers. While going through further brainstorming, we came to the absurdity of the clocks being used right now. They haven’t changed since the last century, even though we had many technological advancements and breakthroughs. Many things have been inherited from the old era of strictly mechanical clocks, so the basic concept has not been optimized for modern times. We are working on changing that.
Q: What problems does the clock solve?
A: Our clock is capable of connecting to others on the tournament. That allows for remote time setting and automatic result collecting. We are eliminating those 15-30 minutes when you go over each clock to set its time. Organizers should focus their time on more important things. We are also eliminating those needless papers where you enter your result. They can cause big crowds and bumping into each other. Also, there will be no missing results, which is a problem that organizers face. We achieve these things by connecting clocks to the central unit. The central unit is where organizers control the whole tournament. It allows communication with the clocks and just about anything tournament related such as pairing, automatic online result publishing and so on. And then we have the cloud system. Its role is to allow players, organizers or anyone interested to check out what’s going on. It can also do all sorts of different additional stuff automatically, such as registration, hotel booking, news posting, event management and so on. As a side effect, the whole tournament becomes much more futuristic. It will surely be much more enjoyable for anyone involved. We cannot imagine any sports event without technology. For example, think about swimming without tech. Even though it is subtle, it still has its role. We hope to bring that kind of experience to Go.
Q: Tell us about your team?
A: Anyone in our local Go community is in my team. They have always been there for us for anything this project needed. Many things, such as Niš Open Go tournament presentation, wouldn’t have been possible without them. When I started this project, they were all eager to help. Aside from that, I also found kids in my school interested in this project, so that we could take part in a student entrepreneurship competition. We won first place on the regional level, which qualified us for the national level which was a big promotion for Go.
Q: When will users be able to see a prototype?
A: We have already made an early prototype of the clock, which we demonstrated on Niš Open in March of 2019. It’s not completely polished, but it has all of the functionalities, although we need to tweak a few things. The central unit has most of the basic communication functionalities and is now working from the command line. We are currently working on that part. The cloud system is in its early stages and we have only done some testing so far. We will be able to work a lot more during the summer, so we hope to have a complete prototype by the end of August. Hopefully, Niš Open 2020 will be using our system for its organization, which will make it one of the most high-tech tournaments in the whole world.
Q: What are your plans for this project in the future?
A: Once we finish the prototype and turn it into a product and we organize a few tournaments, we will continue rolling out software updates for it, sort of how Tesla does it with their cars. We also have many ideas on how to upgrade the whole thing, but for now, we are working on the basic idea. There are also many ideas for future Go-related projects. Since tech in Go is an open field, we have a lot of possibilities for future growth and development.Follow me in social media: