Aug. 7, 2012 at 3:13 PM ET
There’s hope yet for the fat-fingered set who want to try their hands at precision craftsmanship thanks to a new tool that combines manual and automatic positioning to cut things according to a digital plan.
This could be handy, for example, if you want to make wooden drink coasters in the shape of the United States – jagged coastlines and all – for an upcoming presidential debate viewing party.
To do so, just put the tool down on a piece of wood and follow an on-screen guide to move it roughly in the shape of the country. The tool will automatically adjust its cutter to correct your positioning error, explains the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team that created the tool.
Before actually cutting, you have to first move the tool over the piece of wood so that an on-board camera can make a 2-D map of it. Stickers on the surface will help the tool keep track of where it is if there are no other distinctive markings.
Then, load your desired design – that map of the United States – onto a computer, which pairs it with the 2-D map of the material about to be cut.
Once cutting, the system automatically compares all the new images it receives from its camera with the digital map, allowing it to precisely follow the digital plan.
Alec Rivers, a Ph.D. student in computer science and artificial intelligence at MIT, designed the position-correcting tool to make low-cost precision manufacturing widely available.
Most precision cutting tools are large, fully automatic tabletop machines that can only cut shapes that are smaller than themselves. They are also rather expensive – about $20,000 for a 5 foot-by-8 foot ShopBot mill, the team notes in a paper to be presented this week at the Siggraph 2012 conference in Los Angeles.
Want one? A commercial version is under development. You can add yourself to a mailing list.