This robot can build custom furniture for you

MIT wants its AutoSaw to give people without carpentry skills the ability to make wares that fit their house or apartment. It can even build a full shed.

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After observing the frequency of carpentry-related injuries, a team of researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) created a robotic saw that lets humans unskilled in carpentry make their own furniture.

The AutoSaw, made up in part of CAD OnShape design software and semi-autonomous robots, gets users to design a piece of furniture through its templates and then independently cuts out the piece needed to put it together.

“To enable fabrication, we employed two robotic systems: one robot team to use a chop saw and [one for] a mobile robotic jigsaw,” said Jeffrey Lipton, a CSAIL postdoc and one of the lead authors for the project.

Right now, users can build a chair, a table, a shed and a deck, with the researchers expecting to add other templates to the AutoSaw software soon. Once someone has edited the size and shape of a model, robots are instructed to pick up the correct materials and saw them according to the order.

“If you live in a cramped apartment in New York City, you won’t have to worry about whether conventionally-shaped furniture will fit in your place,” Lipton told Inman. “You’ll be able to customize the exact size and shape of any chair or sofa or table based on what works for you.”

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To cut out the right pieces of wood, two Kuka youBots lift the beams and place it on a chop saw. A jigsaw attached to a modified Roomba (a robotic vacuum cleaner) is also used to cut lumber on a plank.

But while AutoSaw robots currently cut out the necessary pieces, real people still need to supervise the process by laying out the pieces and then assembling them. Lipton and his team are currently working to equip the AutoSaw with a robotic drill to eventually help automate assembly.

The idea, said Lipton, is to make certain types of furniture assembly accessible to the non-carpenter. While the team still has a long way to go before its system is available to the average consumer, the researchers hope it can help others create custom pieces of furniture without a hand ever getting near a blade.

“The expert-designed templates make it easy for almost anyone to use the system, especially those who are Ikea-inclined,” Lipton said.

Email Veronika Bondarenko