Now there's a robot to replace builders who cut and carry timber

PhD student Adriana Schulz, co-lead on AutoSaw. Picture: MIT News

  • AutoSaw could be a portable solution to cutting and carting timber
  • Can safely handle cutting needs that have to be done on-site
  • Can also prep timber ready to assemble into furniture

Australia’s one-armed robot bricklayer may soon have a timber-cutting companion on construction sites around the world.

Less than two years ago, brickies scoffed as Australian company Fastbrick Robotics took the wraps off its one-armed bricklaying robot which at the time was able to lay 225 bricks an hour – about half a day’s work for a top human bricklayer:

Since then, Fastbrick has raised $35 million in funding, and has developed a prototype capable of laying 1000 bricks an hour.

Caterpillar now has a stake in the company and Fastbrick has a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia for the construction of a minimum of 50,000 new home units by 2022.

Now, just a year out from the commercial release of the robot bricklayer, there’s a robot to replace builders who cut and carry timber. Meet AutoSaw:

It’s an experimental system recently developed by scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Right now, it has been developed to prepare furniture components. AutoSaw can make chairs, decking and cut all the timber required to build a shed.

But if you’re worried about milling job, the team says AutoSaw is more about saving hands and fingers.

“If you’re building a deck, you have to cut large sections of lumber to length, and that’s often done on site,” CSAIL postdoc Jeffrey Lipton says.

“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.”

All AutoSaw needs is a basic template accessed through the OnShape CAD system. Once tweaked, it builds a list of pieces required, which are then transmitted to AutoSaw and its two helpers, mobile Kuka Youbots.

The team has even hacked a Roomba to run a jigsaw over boards for any tricky bits:

MIT is now working on giving it drilling and gluing capabilities, but it’s easy to see that right now, it can cut lumber precisely without breaking a sweat.

While there are any number of much larger robots already doing that exact task offsite for bulk orders, the team says AutoSaw could handle much of the smaller trimming work done on demand, on site.

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