By assembling Ikea chairs, robots steal the one job we never wanted

People sometimes talk about robots being able to carry out all the jobs which are considered too dull, dirty or dangerous for humans to do. Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore apparently want to add one more “D” to that list: Jobs that are frustrating. With that in mind, they have demonstrated how a pair of off-the-shelf robot arms can be used to assemble a flat-packed Ikea chair in mere minutes. Best of all? The robot arms don’t waste time having raging arguments about whether or not the instructions are being read properly.

“Similar to humans, the robot first localizes the chair parts using vision, then plans the motions to reach those parts, and control its motion so as to realize the different tasks — [such as] inserting a pin or carrying the frame,” Francisco Suárez Ruiz, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends.

In all, the robot took 20 minutes to put together the Ikea chair. Localizing the parts took just three seconds but planning its movement took 11 minutes, and assembly an extra nine. Ruiz said that the work is interesting because it shows a robot’s ability to perform a task which has been designed specifically to be accomplished using human dexterity.

robot arms assemble ikea chair image 2
Nanyang Technological University

“Fine manipulation is one of the key human skills,” he explained. “In general, robotics researchers are interested in reproducing those key human skills in their robots. We wanted to reproduce the generality of human ‘hardware:’ the same eyes and hands are used to assemble many different objects. Also, the capabilities that we develop based on off-the-shelf hardware can be easily and largely deployed in the industry. This approach of generality and off-the-shelf hardware makes the task of assembling a chair, that is already complex, even more difficult.”

However, thanks to key advances in computer vision, planning, control, integration of multiple software and hardware components, and bimanual manipulation, it is now possible for robots to carry out some of these functions.

Don’t start fearing an Ikea chair-assembling Skynet just yet, though. The robot had to be advised on the best way to assemble the chair, meaning that there was still a human in the loop. The finished product also wasn’t perfect, since the robot arms were unable to carry out some of the ultra-fine work involving placing dowels in the chair’s pre-drilled holes. But all this may change in the future.

“We are planning to incorporate A.I. so that the robot can figure out by itself the sequence of instructions,” Ruiz said.

A paper describing the work, “Can Robots Assemble an Ikea Chair?” was recently published in the journal Science Robotics.

Deals

Save over $350 on the Refurbished iPad 4 for a limited time

Looking to buy an iPad without having to pay that iPad price? For a limited time, you can pick up a refurbished iPad 4 for as low as $137. That's $363 less than you would pay for something brand new.
Deals

The 10 best windproof umbrellas to help you weather the storm

The rains have come and they have no mercy. Can your current umbrella handle everything nature can throw at it? Here are 10 of the best windproof umbrella deals available now to help keep you safe and dry.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.