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Making customised furniture with a little help from a robot

02 March 2018

To help minimise injury a team at MIT CSAIL has created AutoSaw, a system that uses a robot to help an everyday person build customised furniture.

PhD student Adriana Schulz was co-lead on AutoSaw (Credit: Jason Dorfman, MIT CSAIL)

“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. “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.”

“Robots have already enabled mass production, but with artificial intelligence (AI) they have the potential to enable mass customisation and personalisation in almost everything we produce,” says CSAIL director and co-author Daniela Rus. “AutoSaw shows this potential for easy access and customisation in carpentry.”

AutoSaw draws on expert knowledge for designing, and robotics for the more risky cutting tasks. Using the existing CAD system OnShape with an interface of design templates, users can customise their furniture for things like size, sturdiness, and aesthetics. Once the design is finalised, it’s sent to the robots to assist in the cutting process using the jigsaw and chop-saw.

To cut lumber the team used motion-tracking software and small mobile robots — an approach that takes up less space and is more cost-effective than large robotic arms.

Specifically, the team used a modified Roomba with a jigsaw attached to cut lumber of any shape on a plank. For the chopping, the team used two Kuka youBots to lift the beam, 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.”

After the robots finish with cutting, the user then assembles the new piece of furniture using step-by-step directions from the system.

Video courtesy of MIT CSAIL


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