Hands-Off Carpentry

A team of researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has created a new high-tech carpentry tool that not only makes it easier for carpenters to build custom projects but also removes some of the danger inherent to the trade.

AutoSaw combines robotics with artificial intelligence (AI) to replace the jigsaws and other hand tools carpenters typically use during a build. The carpenter simply uses the CAD system OnShape to craft their custom design, then sends it on to Autosaw's small mobile robots to handle the dangerous cutting tasks.

This is Adriana Schulz pictured with the hardware/software workflow. Image Credit: Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL

AutoSaw's robots use motion tracking software to help with the cutting process. A Roomba rigged with a modified jigsaw can cut a plank of lumber into any shape, while two Kuka youBots can lift beams onto a chop saw and cut them.

Once the cutting is complete, the carpenter can assemble their design following AutoSaw's instructions.

According to a press release, the CSAIL team built a chair, shed, and deck via simulations, and using the robots, the group constructed a table with an accuracy comparable to that of a person, but without putting a single finger in harm's way.

Defending Your Digits

AutoSaw is still just a research platform, but it has the potential to benefit both professional carpenters and do-it-yourselfers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, carpenters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations, and amongst the most common types of injuries are cuts from sharp objects and tools.

These injuries aren't just painful — they can also jeopardize a carpenter's livelihood. Not only might the carpenter be physically unable to work for a certain period of time, they could lose favor with their company simply for reporting an injury.

With AutoSaw, carpenters can focus on the building and let the bots handle the dangerous cutting.

Amateur builders can use AutoSaw for home woodworking projects or to customize store-bought items.

"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," PhD student Adriana Schulz, co-author of a paper written about the system, said in the press release.

Next, the group plans to integrate tasks such as drilling and gluing into AutoSaw, so by the time they're done with the system, building customized carpentry projects could be as simple — and safe — as pushing a button.

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