It can be satisfying to build something yourself, making careful measurements and ensuring your carefully routed wood slats fit together perfectly. Except when your measurements are off by a few microns and nothing fits. Some MIT students decided that a smart machine could help matters, and designed a re-routing router that automatically cuts the right shape.
Alec Rivers, a PhD student in MIT's electrical engineering and computer science department, inherited some woodworking tools from his grandfather, according to MIT News. He tried to build a picture frame, but no matter how carefully he measured, the pieces wouldn't fit quite right. "I was getting incredibly frustrated," he said. So Rivers, Frédo Durand, an EECS associate professor and member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and a mechanical engineering grad student named Ilan Moyer came up with a new handheld router.
You load the system with pre-drawn plans, and then you only have to be accurate within a quarter inch when you set it up. The router will redirect itself to rout wood along the appropriate route.
Its precision stems from a two-dimensional map the tool creates for itself. To do this, you have to move the device over the raw material first, so a camera on board can record the entire surface. To help it locate itself on the map, the user puts some black-and-white stickers on the surface to be cut. Then you load your design into a computer and this is overlaid onto the 2-D map. Place the router on the material you want to cut, and the system will automatically track its progress by taking further images, which it compares to its internal map. Motors on the router automatically adjust its path to ensure it follows the design.
It is cheaper and better than existing automatic cutters, CNC routers, because those devices can only cut things that are smaller than themselves, as MIT News explains it. This thing could conceivably cut anything. The team is actually considering adapting it to a forklift and attaching it to a flame cutter, so it could be used to carve enormous pieces of steel.
Companies could use this technology to complete tasks that now require heavy equipment, and hobby woodworkers could use it to improve accuracy on complex shapes. Rivers said it's so precise, it cut out a map of the United States.
Rivers and colleagues will present their work at the Siggraph conference this week. Here's a video describing their project:
"Except when your measurements are off by a few microns and nothing fits"
Oh come on don't you know what a micron is? If you get your cuts within a few microns you are going to have any problems at all. Most people are lucky if they are accurate to a 1/4 of an inch.
@tcolguin I believe the sarcasm/joke flew right over your head. Also, a 1/4 inch off is freaking huge!
Very cool...but the digital accuracy is old hat and has been around for 20 years...even the ability to "read" the surface isn't anything new. What is left out of the story is a description of how the router propels itself across (and through) the material and how it overcomes the resistance of the material against the router bit. Even the softest of plywood's cut with a spiral bit will "guide" a lightweight router without it being well anchored.
There's much more to this than what's been written...
@DirtySquirties " Also, a 1/4 inch off is freaking huge!"
I know it is huge, and that is why I used it (I was being sarcastic too). I was thinking of using 1/8", but what would have been pretty close to what the average tinker that doesn't know what they are doing would come up with.
The real point is, the person he got the tools from had no problem using them with good enough accuracy, so what do you really think the problem is? Increase accuracy to a degree that is not needed or just the fact that people just have no skill (or patience) any more and need to invent a machine so it can do it for them?
Greeeeat, now we just need sky net....
I'd be happy with the added video display to better see where the bit is going, with a magnification feature! :)