Even if you think you're pretty handy with a chisel, often all it takes is one wrong angle or strike of the hammer to ruin an entire sculpting project. MIT's media lab has a solution - the FreeD is a handheld smart milling device that gives the artist creative control, but won't let you totally screw up your project with one wrong move.

The FreeD basically functions the same as any other handheld milling device - the on-board computer only intervenes when the bit approaches the edge of the planned 3D CAD model. If the bit gets too close to violating the underlying planned object shape, the computer slows down the spindle or draws back the shaft - otherwise, the FreeD allows for complete creative freedom while working the shape.

"The idea of the FreeD is to allow designers to engage with the physical material and not just with the CAD environment, and to let them do their interpretations to the virtual model," explained developers Amit Zoran and Joe Paradiso of the Responsive Environment Group at the MIT Media Lab. "By that, designers can create something that is one of a kind, unique based on a generic design."

Designers can use CAD software like Rhino 3D to create a model to use with the FreeD. In its current iteration, the FreeD requires its own dedicated work space because it uses the Polhemus Fastrak motion tracking system, which needs to be installed on a work table or bench to communicate with the 6D sensor on the handheld device itself.

FreeD uses the Fastrak system installed at a designated workspace

The device is basically a bit at the end of a long shaft driven by a DC motor. A control PCB resting on top of the device communicates with the main computer and adjusts the speed of the spindle and the shaft's linear (forward and back) movement. The 6D sensor is aligned parallel with the shaft, allowing the system to keep track of the bit's movements and take control if necessary.

On the computer, a Rhino plugin called Grasshopper monitors the milling activity and takes control of the device if the artists gets too close to the outline of the model.

The team behind the FreeD says they're working on a new model that will be more accurate and provide more control. They envision future models that will also introduce more elements of 3D printing, allowing artists not only to subtract from the material they use to create their works, but to add to it as well.

Check out the video below to see the FreeD in action.

Source: MIT via Make