Automated manufacturing is a dream as old as the Shoemaker and the Elves, a nightmare as old as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. But the (delightful) science fiction dreams about automated manufacturing so often fall short of the reality.

Not always, though! MIT CSAIL researchers' "Laserfactory" demo at this year's CHI is a marvel straight out of a novel I wish I'd written:



The demo uses a modified laser-cutter to print, assemble and finish a working drone that then flies off the build plate, with only the tiniest human interventions.

It uses a multi-tip add-on that bolts onto the laser-cutter's head, and uses an accelerometer to locate itself in space over the build-plate. The add-on can dispense conductive silver paste and perform pick-and-place operations with a suction cup.


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The control system integrates the laser with the special head: it tidies up the silver paste traces into sub-millimetre traces, thermally cures the paste to solder components together.

The money-shot is that robotically assembled drone taking off on its own, (almost) untouched by human hands.



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