MIT turned old robots and a Roomba into AI-powered carpenters

MIT turned old robots and a Roomba into AI-powered carpenters

MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) today unveiled AutoSaw, a system for creating custom furniture with robot carpenters. Anyone who’s lost a thumb-wrestling match with a table saw can appreciate this one.

AutoSaw uses a pair of youBots, a discontinued model from Kuka, and a modified Roomba to make customized flat-pack furniture – the kind you put together yourself with a screwdriver and a modicum of self-loathing.

Users begin by designing their furniture in a basic computer assisted drawing (CAD) interface and the AI does the rest. The youBots measure the wood and place it in the path of the saw while the Roomba follows precise instructions and cuts more intricate designs with a jigsaw attachment.

If the idea of having an AI-powered Roomba running around your garage with a blade doesn’t bother you, this might just be the workshop of your dreams.

According to MIT CSAIL director Daniela Rus:

Robots have already enabled mass production, but with artificial intelligence (AI) they have the potential to enable mass customization and personalization in almost everything we produce. AutoSaw shows this potential for easy access and customization in carpentry.

About 10 percent of all time-lost injuries suffered by carpenters are to their hands. And while we’re not quite sure how much the Kuka youBots go for, as they’ve been discontinued, it’s safe to assume they could be had for under $30k. And the newest Roomba from iRobot costs less than $900.

To get a finger reatteached you’ll need substantially more. Assuming you don’t need physical therapy or any follow-up surgeries, $80k will get you started.

If you’re not the kind of person who risks losing a finger over a weekend project, perhaps you’re one of those people who think furniture shopping is a death-trap for healthy relationships. In that case, save your marriage and buy a robot or three.

PhD student Adriana Schulz, one of the authors on the project’s white paper, says “Our aim is to democratize furniture-customization. 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.”

This all sounds fantastic and the implications are huge. For example, if these robots could be scaled and taught to build houses it could make owning a home affordable for the first time in generations.

AutoSaw is still a research platform, the gang at CSAIL has big plans for it going forward, but for now it’s all considered experimental.

And before MIT shutters its research labs in favor of cornering the cheap furniture market there’s a lot more work to do. AutoSaw can’t even make Swedish meatballs.

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