Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have built robots that can build custom carpentry projects with expert skill. Robot’s could eventually prove as vital helpers, especially for new hands on the job.
“If you’re building a deck, you have to cut large sections of lumber to length, and that’s often done on site,” says CSAIL postdoc Jeffrey Lipton, who was a lead author on a related paper about the system, in a press statement. “Every time you put a hand near a blade, you’re at risk. To avoid that, we’ve largely automated the process using a chop-saw and jigsaw.”
The robotic system, known as AutoSaw, seeks to split the difference between machine-built quality and unique customization. Using computer-aided design (CAD) system, users can decide what kind of furniture they want to create, including size, sturdiness, and general aesthetics.
Once programmed, the AutoSaw gets to work. Using a modified Roomba with a jigsaw attached, AutoSaw can cut lumber to any shape or size. For chopping, the CSAIL team used the two now-discontinued Kuka youBots. The youBots lift up a beam of wood, place it on the chop saw, and cut.
“We added soft grippers to the robots to give them more flexibility, like that of a human carpenter,” says Lipton. “This meant we could rely on the accuracy of the power tools instead of the rigid-bodied robots.”
There’s still some work for the users to do. The AutoSaw can only build the individual parts of the furniture, the user still has to assembly things.
“Our aim is to democratize furniture-customization,” says PhD student Adriana Schulz, co-lead on the project. “We’re trying to open up a realm of opportunities so users aren’t bound to what they’ve bought at Ikea. Instead, they can make what best fits their needs.”
Worthy goals, but there’s still something to be said about building things for yourself, and there are plenty of different places to start.