CNC mills live in shops, and power tools are things you can carry around. That's been the paradigm. But building on their successful 17 years of producing and refining CNC mills, ShopBot Tools has now combined the two worlds with their new, portable, crowdfunded Handibot. (The Kickstarter campaign went live about fifteen minutes ago.)
The Handibot is what they're calling a "smart tool," and it's essentially a 3-axis CNC mill that you can carry (and run via PC, tablet or even smartphone). But don't let the small size fool you: By "tiling" your digital files and registering the Handibot from one location to the next, you can work on surfaces of unlimited size with total CNC precision—it's even "capable of high precision such as on PC boards."
The benefits to builders seem obvious: Haul a Handibot to the jobsite and this thing will cut rafter tails and stair stringers all day long. Templates and pattern bits will stay in the truck. In one demo I saw, a ShopBotter hacked up Handibot wall rig, where he programmed it to precisely cut outlet holes into vertical sheetrock. For one outlet hole, sure, that's overkill; but in a commercial building where you're cutting hundreds of outlet holes, the Handibot would be your new best friend.
The benefits that aren't yet obvious, however, is what company founder Ted Hall is curious about: The uses that you would put the Handibot to. ShopBot is looking to expand the user base by reaching out to consumers, building their already-formidable user community out into an ecosystem of shared designs that all users can easily access; something akin to MakerBot's Thingiverse, and with the added value of smartphone- or tablet-run apps that spur the Handibot into specific actions.
That is what makes creating digital fabrication tools so fascinating. If I design a tennis racket, I know what you're going to use it for: You and the missus will play doubles with the Browns, and maybe you'll swing it around your living room when a fruit bat gets in through the window. But when companies like MakerBot and ShopBot release their offerings, they know that the collective cleverness of the user base is going to surprise them with unexpected and unforeseen applications.
"We're enthusiastic about exploring the 'open innovation' concepts behind the tool," says Hall. "And we're excited about the Handibot tool itself - it is just enough of a new twist to offer a utility that really goes beyond both what power tools traditionally do and what people usually think of for CNC. I love that one can just whack away at real construction lumber with it."
Not that lumber is the limit. The Handibot will cut through wood, metal, plastic, paper & cardboard (with a drag knife attachment) and can even be used to etch glass.