MIT's robotic carpenters take the hassle out of custom furniture

Build your own chair without touching a saw.

If you want to build custom furniture, you usually need to know your way around a saw and devote days to both designing it and cutting every last piece. MIT's CSAIL might have a better solution: let computers and robots do the hard work. Its researchers have developed an AutoSaw system that makes it easy to craft furniture without the risk of cutting your fingers. You start on your computer by customizing furniture templates in OnShape's simple CAD system. After that, modified robots (a Roomba for a jigsaw, Kuka youBots for chopping) cut the individual parts. You still have to assemble it yourself, but the software will guide you through the process.

AutoSaw is currently limited to common household items like chairs, desks and tables. However, the hope is that it'll eventually be useful for porches and other larger-scale projects. CSAIL also wants to incorporate tasks beyond cutting, such as drilling and gluing.

The aim is to democratize custom furniture building. Yes, you could use CNC machines, but they're typically gargantuan, fixed devices that limit the size and shape of what you can cut. And that's assuming you have access to them in the first place. This approach provides much more flexibility, and might even let you cut parts at home if the cost of the robots can be kept in check. If a pre-built table wouldn't quite fit in your kitchen, you could design one yourself after a quick trip to the lumber store.