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Robotics Open Source Hardware

Berkeley Gets Willow Garage Robot To Fold Towels 99

Posted by Soulskill
from the thanks-rosie dept.
kkleiner writes "Researchers at UC Berkeley used Willow Garage's PR2 robot to fold towels. The UCB programming used some innovative visual scanning techniques, allowing the PR2 to pick up a towel, find its corners, and fold it on a table perfectly. According to the paper presented at the 2010 ICRA (PDF), the robot successfully completed 50 out of 50 attempts to fold a single towel, and also folded 5 out of 5 towels when they were presented in a group. Is watching a robot do laundry really that exciting? Hell yes — wait until you see the video! UC Berkeley used a Willow Garage robot to develop their own sophisticated robotics program. That validates the whole premise of the PR2 — faster development by letting researchers use a common platform. Score one for open source robotics!"
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Berkeley Gets Willow Garage Robot To Fold Towels

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  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:17PM (#31709564)
    Obviously, this robot knows where its towel is.
  • by cosm (1072588) <thecosm3&gmail,com> on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:19PM (#31709576)
    The real question is, will it match my socks?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:22PM (#31709610)

    The real question is: Can it fold paper more than 7 times?

    • by kiehlster (844523)
      I believe 13 times would be the real challenge. 12 is easy [pomonahistorical.org].
      • Re:Towels are Lame! (Score:4, Informative)

        by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:57PM (#31710360) Journal
        I've done it. I also dispute the claim that she's the first person in history to have ever done it, because this was a well-known out-of-the-box solution on the CalTech campus in the late 1960's.

        The smug guy says "I know you can't fold a piece of paper more than 7 times."

        You say "oh yeah? any piece of paper? How about $20 says I can do it 9 times?"

        Then you go get a roll of toilet paper, and you roll it out. You can find rolls of industrial-grade toilet paper: you know, the itchy horrible stuff, that are 2000 feet long, and 0.004" thick. Then you start folding in half. It takes a lot of walking, but you end up with something a couple feet long and a couple inches thick at 9 folds. If you get adding machine paper, or even better punch tape from old computers, which is both longer and thinner (some tapes) you can do better yet.

      • by Kenoli (934612)
        At some point it changes from folded paper to a big wad.
  • If it can distinguish what type of clothing goes on hangers, I'm all in for eliminating laundry from my weekly chores.
  • wake me when it can handle inside-out shorts or a brassiere. (i know... why would anyone want to fold a brassiere? ...well i wouldn't)
  • Hotels (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davidphogan74 (623610) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:30PM (#31709672) Homepage

    I'm sure there are some hoteliers that will be excited about reducing their staffing for for washing and folding all the towels and sheets they go through. Hospitals likely would love this too, since it wouldn't show up sick and help spread diseases on clean linens.

    • Re:Hotels (Score:4, Informative)

      by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:42PM (#31709772) Journal

      I'm sure there are some hoteliers that will be excited about reducing their staffing for for washing and folding all the towels and sheets they go through.

      Cost/efficiency? Probably cheaper to have poor immigrant labor continue to do it -- and that's for hotels that don't outsource linens. FYI, linens are already robotically pressed and folded in the big laundry service facilities.

      Hospitals likely would love this too, since it wouldn't show up sick and help spread diseases on clean linens.

      Hospital linens are, to my knowledge, pressed and folded in a sterile environment by robots, then packaged to maintain sterility before delivery back to the hospital. I know this is true for my two local hospitals, not sure about others.

    • You don't need this level of sophistication just to fold towels. The robot could just kind of flatten it out by tugging on different corners until it's flat, and then grabbing two corners and folding it over.

      Even easier would be just a big machine that pulls in a bin of linens and separates them onto rollers, which deposit them in piles.

      • Re:Hotels (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:59PM (#31709882)

        You don't need this level of sophistication just to fold towels. The robot could just kind of flatten it out by tugging on different corners until it's flat, and then grabbing two corners and folding it over.

        Even easier would be just a big machine that pulls in a bin of linens and separates them onto rollers, which deposit them in piles.

        TFA states that the robot is not the best model to fold towels. It does demonstrate "open source" robotics. At one time, computers were dedicated, single use, machines. Now, an off-the-shelf robot can be programmed for various tasks. That's the point.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CAIMLAS (41445)

        Yet the robot would still need to find the corners.

        Whoever doesn't think this is amazing needs to pay attention to a young child sometime. This thing has more programmed dexterity than a 3-year-old: my daughter isn't stupid or anything, but I doubt she could neatly and consistently fold a towel or washcloth. Ask any parent: having young children "help" with the laundry ends up being more work.

        • by mOdQuArK! (87332)

          Ask any parent: having young children "help" with the laundry ends up being more work.

          But, still a pretty good bonding experience (assuming a threshold # of giggles is reached)!

    • I'm sure there are some hoteliers that will be excited about reducing their staffing for for washing and folding all the towels and sheets they go through. Hospitals likely would love this too, since it wouldn't show up sick and help spread diseases on clean linens.

      The machine that washes your dishes: does it look like the Jetson's robot maid Rossie?

      The biggest mistake a venture capitalist can make - Mark Twain is the is classic example - is to back a machine that does the job the way a man or woman would

    • This came up on boing boing and somebody said there already are dedicated folding machines, which I assume commercial laundries would use. Just not general purpose robots programmed for the purpose.

      • by Xeno man (1614779)
        Machines yes, Robots, no. The machine will be many times more efficient but requires consistent input. For example, the towels will always be the same size, before they get folded, another machine must get them flat, another machine orientates them the correct way, ect ect...

        The Robot figures out all those things and while taking much more time to do so, can handle inconsistent input. The towels can be any size, half folded, in a pile or flat, there can be more than one towel, it doesn't matter. That's
  • obl (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    they took our jerbs!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This thing can pierce and twist any and all of your innards - game set and match.

    Skynet: 1
    Human race: Dead

  • Wife (Score:3, Funny)

    by elohel (1582481) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:35PM (#31709716)
    Now only if I could get my wife to do that...
  • by Naatach (574111) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:39PM (#31709748)
    I, for one, welcome our new robotic towel folding overlords.
  • TowelNet (Score:3, Funny)

    by NinjaPablo (246765) <ninjapablo@smash t e ch.net> on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:55PM (#31709850) Homepage Journal
    We are but towels to the robots, existing only to be folded, and patted neatly into place on a table. Mark this day.
  • I am sorry - I could not get it out of my head that this looked very much like something that would have been made by that intrepid duo!
  • I need this. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by swanzilla (1458281) on Friday April 02, 2010 @04:57PM (#31709870) Homepage

    My fiance and I have different towel folding approaches. She implements a "thirds" method, whereas I go "halves" until it looks approximately the same size as the others in the closet. I hear about it on a bi-weekly basis.

    If this thing could fold halter tops, (especially the ones with the built in bra things) I would happily shell out some loot for one. Women's clothing is a strange, strange beast.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by svallarian (43156)

      >If this thing could fold halter tops, (especially the ones with the built in bra things) I would happily shell out some loot for one. Women's clothing is a strange, strange beast.

      This *is* slashdot, I don't think anyone here is going to have that problem.

    • by CityZen (464761)

      Consider yourself lucky. I prefer neatly folded and stacked, whereas my wife prefers the cram-it-in approach.

      As far as thirds of halves, I find I have to use both to fit larger things into their designated* spaces. My usual approach is to go halves until I realize that it won't fit as is and I can't fold it anymore due to thickness, and then I must back off a fold and go thirds.

      * Ah, yes, I also prefer to put things in designated spaces (like with like), whereas my wife is less particular, except when *my

  • OK, I expected him to be more accurate than I am at folding towels, but faster too?!?
  • Sure, the robot can fold the towel. But can it make it into a swan? [tripadvisor.com]
  • by religious freak (1005821) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:03PM (#31709908)
    How do I get one?
  • by mister_playboy (1474163) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:05PM (#31709930)

    The video seems impressive until you realize it has been sped up 50 times actual speed... it took more than an hour and a half to fold 5 towels!

    Cool, but very far from anything practical.

    • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Friday April 02, 2010 @05:09PM (#31709976)

      I dunno. Sometimes I can go years without folding the towels. I'm going to have to call "improvement" on this one.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)
      I don't care how long it takes, as long as I have a towel available when I need it. Leave it to do your laundry during the day while you're asleep.
    • by CityZen (464761)

      But that's the beauty of technology: in a couple of generations, it'll be 50 times faster!

      Ok, maybe Moore's "Law" doesn't apply to everything technical...

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        Actually it does, the robot isn't the problem, it's the corner locating algorithm that is slow. So yes, throwing more cpu power at it will make it faster, and that still (for now) obeys Moore's law.

    • The video seems impressive until you realize it has been sped up 50 times actual speed... it took more than an hour and a half to fold 5 towels!

      You have to think ahead about the towel-folding singularity. Once these robots can design more towel-folding robots, it's all over for us humans. First it'll be 10 minutes to fold a towel, then 5, then 1, then 10 seconds, and then... then, they will overtake us, folding towels in less than a second, and then who knows. We can't even imagine what it will be like at

  • Robots should be kept barefoot and in the kitchen... ;)
  • Eerily Creepy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mastershake82 (948396)
    Although it didn't seem like anything great from the summary, I went ahead and went to the article and watched the videos.

    I found it very creepy. The way it handled the towels and turned them while 'looking' for the next step. It was reminiscent of what I felt was a child learning to fold towels (although, I'm fairly certain the robot wasn't doing any learning). For whatever reason, and despite it's appearance, this robot seems more human than any other robot I've seen previously.
  • Fitted sheets. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If it could fold fitted sheets I'd be impressed.

  • According to the paper presented at the 2010 ICRA (PDF), the robot successfully completed 50 out of 50 attempts to fold a single towel, and also folded 5 out of 5 towels when they were presented in a group. Is watching a robot do laundry really that exciting?

    No, it's boring as hell. That's what I love about it. 99% of the crap that I want a robot to do for me is boring - that's the point of having a mindless automaton do it while I'm at the lake.

  • If you have a group of these robots in a hotel laundry room, or the locker room, will they figure out how to snap each other in the butt with the towels???
  • if not, will it throw in the towel?
  • But can it snap a towel at the refrigerator's butt?

  • by gillbates (106458) on Friday April 02, 2010 @07:28PM (#31711132) Homepage Journal

    With the recent invention of a laundry folding robot, many are asking if robots are safe for family use.

    A local area woman is questioning the safety of robots in the home after her husband built one to mow the lawn. She says the only thing it did was scare off the neighbor's dogs, and she can't imagine bringing a robot into the house.

    Still, others think the technology is promising. Scientists say that robots are getting better all the time, and recent improvements have made chainsaw and butcher-knife fueled rampages a thing of the past. "We're learning more about robot psychology every day," says a prominent climatologist, " And things are getting better. Do we completely understand erratic behavior? Well, not completely. But we're working on it, and erratic episodes are much fewer and farther between. I've had a robot living with me for almost 6 months without incident."

    Local men are enthusiastic about laundry robots, as most of them want to spend less time doing household chores. A few of them are already using the robots. One even taught it to mow - though he warned our correspondent to stay off his lawn.

    Still, many people are uncomfortable with having a machine become a part of the family. Some say it just isn't natural to talk to a bucket of bolts, and feel awkward addressing as master something they regard as an overgrown tin can. Whether they're bound for the trash heap, or ruling the roost, one thing is certain: robots are changing lives in unimaginable ways.

  • Wouldn't it make the problem easier if the towels had some corner highlighting and a pattern to show the orientation? Then the company that sells you the towel folding robot can be sure to have a towel customer for a while.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Well, sure, it'd make it easier, but now that this technology has been shown - technology that can fold a solid-colored towel or a multicolored towel or anything - it must be developed and furthered as-is. If companies were to try to lock us into their towels so that our robots and towels would be compatible, we'd have comparisons to Microsoft and complaints about technology being held back and whatnot in an instant.

      If we know that the robot can fold any towel, any color, any pattern, then that's what has

  • I want to see what it would do if a cat jumped up on the table...
  • open source...fast? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by recharged95 (782975) on Friday April 02, 2010 @08:37PM (#31711584) Journal
    With the video sped up 50x (or 30x)... not impressed.
    Now this [youtube.com] and this [youtube.com] or this [youtube.com]... which all are at normal speeds... much more impressive. And all have existed for at least a year...
    I'm a believer of OSS, but the above gets a 'no new news here' tag in my book.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, the visual recognition processing in the folding towel demonstration is far more impressive than the basic recognition needed in the linked videos you provided (and the first video didn't need any visual recognition).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Your linked videos are all examples of extremely impressive hardware and motion control. You don't want a PR2 if you're interested in motion control and dynamics problems, you want one to interact and manipulate in a similar manner and with similar capabilities as a human torso and arms. The PR2 platform isn't for industrial use, and it's not supposed to walk. It's to give researchers a common-ground solution with extensive software to work on AI problems with, not traditional control problems.

      The indust

  • 1) Sorts the clothes and places dirty close in baskets.

    2) Washes each load at correct temperature and water level based on load.

    3) Transfers clothes from washer to dryer or rack depending on a care tag.

    4) When clothes are dry it folds and places in drawers, on hangers, etc.

    Is that so much to ask???
    • You can get one now. It's called a spouse. If you already have a spouse, consult the manual for programming instructions.

  • by FlyByPC (841016)
    The only thing cooler than a robot that does laundry -- is a robot that does laundry, that has an Ethernet switch for a hat. <g>
  • They could slightly modify "The Gambler" for this robot, and have it sing to itself:

    "I've got to know how to hold 'em, know how to fold 'em..."

  • Did anyone else notice that the robot flaps the towel if it can't find a corner?

    Let's see you conquer the human race when I put a circular towel in the laundry basket, motherfucker.

  • by DryGrian (1775520)
    Is it also running Folding@Home in the background?
  • I for one welcome our towel-folding, wantonly destructive [slashdot.org], data-beam shooting [slashdot.org] Cylon overlords... She looks a lot like Rosie The Robot from the Jetsons. What could possibly go wrong?

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