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Aug 10, 2012

Technology :: Robotic power tool keeps your woodcutting on track

When it comes to woodworking, a board cut a few millimetres too long or too short can make the difference between a work of art and a pile of firewood. For a lot of us, this small margin of error can turn the making of even the simplest picture frame or birdhouse seem akin to painting the Mona Lisa

A new smart tool, however, could give even the most ham-fisted hobbyist the guidance he or she needs to give the garage workbench another go. 

Alec Rivers of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab developed a smart wood router that compensates for an operator's unsure hand by following a pre-programmed plan. He is presenting the device this week at the Siggraph Conference in Los Angeles. 

The device can automatically cut out accurate shapes ranging from a picture frame to a map of the US. Rivers says the user is responsible only for getting the tool within six millimetres of the proposed design or plan. 

The router then takes over, adjusting the position of the cutting bit on the tool to keep the cuts within the plan. Before one starts to cut, Rivers says the user moves the device over the raw material, allowing an on-board camera to scan a two-dimensional map of the project's surface. 

The user then loads the desired design he or she wants to cut onto the tool. He says developers want to sell pre-existing plans in an app format. 

Rivers says the device is not only easy to use but can be adapted for a host of other users ranging from drawing a simple picture to cutting steel for a navy destroyer. "We hope this is just the beginning of a new market," he says

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