For many people, using a power saw is a scary thing, bringing forth mental images of horrible hand injuries. But a power saw is an integral part of creating custom wooden furniture. Now, scientists at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed an experimental system called AutoSaw, which uses robots to handle the sawing.
It works by getting on a computer and utilising the existing OnShape CAD system, to access a professionally-designed basic template of the type of item that you wish to build. Users will be able to tweak the design as they wish, accounting for factors such as size or aesthetics. Once the design is finalised, the system generates a list of all the needed wooden pieces that need to be cut. That list is then transmitted to the robots.
The robots are guided by a motion-tracking system, two small mobile Kuka Youbots equipped with grippers pick up the pieces of uncut lumber and carry them over to the saw. These robots then guide the pieces through the saw, which cuts them to the required lengths. Additionally, a Roomba that has been equipped with a jigsaw moves across the surface of wooden boards, cutting out any flat pieces that are still needed.
AutoSaw has been used to build a table, with simulations showing that it could additionally be used for a chair, shed and deck. Down the road, it may also use robots to perform tasks such as drilling and gluing.
"Our aim is to democratise furniture-customisation," says team member Adriana Schulz, a PhD student. "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."
AutoSaw can be seen in action in the video below.