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Video: A Jerry-rigged Roomba Robot is Being Used to Assemble Custom Furniture

28 February 2018

You may think that all a Roomba vacuum robot can do is clean your house. But a jerry-rigged Roomba with a blade can saw through lumber in order to help build custom furniture.

That’s part of the AutoSaw system that was created by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) in an effort to eliminate the thousands of injuries that befall carpenters every year.

“If you’re building a deck, you have to cut large sections of lumber to length, and that’s often done on site,” says Jeffrey Lipton, a post-doctoral student at MIT CSAIL who led the project. “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 allows users to customize different templates that are then constructed by the robots. These templates include chairs, desks and other furniture and could eventually be used to create larger projects such as a deck or a porch.

The idea for using robots in carpentry stems from their use in mass production and the idea that the same process could be used in other industries with the advent of artificial intelligence. The system allows for more flexibility in designing furniture to be able to fit space-constrained houses and apartments, meaning you could modify a desk to fit into an L-shaped living room.

How It Works

The AutoSaw uses robotics for risky cutting tasks, combining an existing Computer Numerical Control (CMC) system with an interface of design templates. Users can customize the furniture for things such as size, sturdiness and aesthetics. Once the design is finalized, it is sent to the robots to assist in the cutting process using a jigsaw and chop-saw.

To cut lumber the team used motion tracking software and small mobile robots that use less space and are more cost-effective than large robotic arms. Specifically, they created a jigsaw-rigged Roomba, yes the vacuum cleaner, 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,” Lipton says. “This meant we could rely on the accuracy of the power tools instead of the rigid-bodied robots.”

After the robots are finished cutting, a user then assembles the furniture using step-by-step directions from the system. MIT CSAIL tested the system to build a chair, shed and a deck with an accuracy that was comparable to a human without a hand getting near a blade.

While currently a prototype, the team plans to use materials such as wood and integrate complex tasks such as drilling and gluing in the future.

To contact the author of this article, email Peter.Brown@ieeeglobalspec.com


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