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Drop and give me a bookcase: Learn basics of using power tools with Drill Sergeant

For some reason, be it a lack of a proper wood shop class in schools these days or a desire to use a smartphone over a cordless drill, fewer and fewer people know their way around a set of power tools. Understanding this as a critical flaw, University of California, Berkeley computer sciences Ph.D. candidate Eldon Schoop decided to develop an easy-to-use tool for teaching people the fundamentals of shop classes of old. Dubbed Drill Sergeant, Schoop’s innovative new tutoring system is essentially like having a robotic teacher attached directly to whatever tool you are using.

Schoop developed Drill Sergeant as a series of sensor-based contraptions one would attach to off-the-shelf tools like power drills, miter saws, or CNC routers. Packed to the gills with various displays and sensors, Drill Sergeant knows exactly how someone is using their specific power tool and offers immediate feedback. For instance, if someone is drilling too far into a piece of wood or plaster, the head-up display will read “Pull back drill.” Conversely, the same display reads “Keep drilling” if  the hole isn’t deep enough and lists how many more millimeters the drill must go to achieve the correct bore.

“Our system kind of helps you build confidence from the very beginning,” said Schoop in a YouTube video. “We don’t want anyone to be afraid of power tools, and we found that this is sometimes a common thing for novices. Power tools can be scary but we don’t believe they should be.”

Schoop cites how many craftsmen got started in woodworking and crafting by learning from a more skilled teacher via an apprenticeship or series of classes. Attempting to replicate this style of teaching, he developed Drill Sergeant. Though it’s geared toward helping anyone learn the basic fundamentals of power tools, there still exists a bit of a learning curve — few people outside of Bob Vila would be able to perfectly operate a miter saw on first try, after all. Despite this, Schoop and his project partner, Michelle Nguyen, still feel that interested craftspeople of all skill levels would be able to learn a significant amount from Drill Sergeant while remaining as safe as possible.

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Currently, Drill Sergeant is but a class project for Schoop and Nguyen, though the duo say they are working with a few unnamed potential associates to help bring Drill Sergeant to the masses. Considering just how useful a tool like it could be, it seems likely Drill Sergeant will hit store shelves in Home Depots across the country sooner rather than later.