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New Technology – AutoSaw lets robots do carpentry projects


MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has created the AutoSaw system where robots can carry out carpentry projects. It lets users customize furniture; once the design is done, the robot assistants step in to create the parts.

Since users aren’t necessarily seasoned carpenters, the system helps them avoid injury. Here’s a quick overview:

“If you’re building a deck, you have to cut large sections of lumber to length, and that’s often done on site,” said CSAIL postdoc Jeffrey Lipton 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 AutoSaw process

AutoSaw uses a computer-aided design (or CAD) system, allowing users to choose the kind furniture they want to create. The process is generally as follows:

  1. Pick a template from the system.
  2. Adjust the parameters of the furniture to customize its size, structure, and overall appearance.
  3. The system then simulates whether the design is doable.
  4. AutoSaw will then generate the list of parts to create.
  5. The system sends the plan to the robots.
  6. The robots construct the parts.

Modded robots

The robots are essentially Roombas with an attached jigsaw. This modification lets them cut wood to any size or shape.

For chopping, CSAIL used youBots, which (as shown in the video) raise a beam of wood, place it on the chop saw, and proceed to cut.

“We added soft grippers to the robots to give them more flexibility, like that of a human carpenter,” said Lipton. “This meant we could rely on the accuracy of the power tools instead of the rigid-bodied robots.”

The AutoSaw, however, can only build the parts. You’ll still need to put them all together.

“Our aim is to democratize furniture customization,” says PhD student and project co-lead Adriana Schulz. “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.”

CSAIL is also responsible for an AI system that optimizes online video buffering.