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Watching this robot fail at building IKEA furniture will make you feel better about yourself

Bimanual pin insertion
If you’ve struggled to put together IKEA furniture armed with nothing more than a prayer and a picture book, this will make you feel better. Not only are you not alone, but even machines can’t do it any better than you can. A new effort spearheaded by Francisco Suárez-Ruiz and Quang-Cuong Pham of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore shows that even robots, who in addition to their own fine motor skills, were developed by individuals with some serious engineering degrees, struggle with constructing IKEA furniture. IKEA, let this be a lesson to you — literally no one knows what you’re asking us to do.

The issue the robots faced, MIT Technology Review explains, is that they’re not human. Seriously. Whereas robots can be programmed to do certain, predetermined tasks very precisely and very efficiently, the rather imprecise and inefficient process of say, building an IKEA chair just doesn’t fit within the robot’s standard modus operandi. Suarez-Ruiz and Pham were trying to address this issue by building a bot equipped with two arms, each with six-axis motion and grippers at their ends, and a six-camera vision system that supposedly gives precise readings even at 3 mm (0.11 inches).

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But despite these impressive specs, the robot ran into issues almost from the get-go, mostly a result of its still very limited field of vision. The seemingly simple task of inserting a wooden dowel into a pre-drilled hole required a number of complex maneuvers (ultimately successfully completed) but after a significant bit of struggling. Really, the robots just look alternately blind, confused, or a bit drunk as they attempt to insert the pin. Which, honestly, is also probably what I look like anytime I take on the arduous task of building Swedish furniture on my own.

As much as the robot struggled during this initial phase, the researchers promise, “This work will continue until completion of all the tasks required for assembling an IKEA chair.” So prepare yourself for a lot more amusing robot antics. God knows this won’t be an easy task.

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