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Sci-Tech

Roomba with a saw: Robot system does dangerous carpentry

Afraid of circular saws? Let MIT's AutoSaw mobile robots do all the wood cutting for your custom furniture projects.

You like your fingers and you want them to stay on your hands, so you have a healthy fear of jigsaws and circular saws. But you still want a custom-made table. It's a good thing MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed AutoSaw, a robotic system that does all the dangerous work.

Your journey to a custom piece of furniture starts with the CAD (computer-aided design) system OnShape and a selection of design templates. You can make adjustments to the look, change the size, or make it shorter or taller. 

The system sends the finished design to a crew of robots, which includes two agile Kuka youBot robo-arms on wheels and a delightfully modified Roomba that wields a jigsaw. 

This modified Roomba robot vacuum now holds a jigsaw.

MIT CSAIL video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

AutoSaw uses motion-tracking software to direct the robots, so the youBots can do things like carry a wood stud over to a chop saw and position it for cutting. The chop saw buzzes through the wood while any humans around wait a safe distance away.

AutoSaw then provides step-by-step directions for an Ikea-like furniture assembly experience. 

"Our aim is to democratize furniture-customization," says MIT doctoral student Adriana Schulz.

The CSAIL team's use of mobile robots means the system could work just as well at a job site or even a home workshop.   

AutoSaw won't be rolling out to a home improvement store near you anytime soon, but the researchers are continuing to develop the system. They hope to add drilling and gluing capabilities to further reduce the need for people to get involved. 

Perhaps someday we'll all turn to AutoSaw to create a perfect side table for a living room or cut all the lumber for a new deck while keeping our precious fingers far, far away from power tools.