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Teachable Robot Helps Assemble IKEA Furniture 88

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the next-step-world-domination dept.
cylonlover writes "Teaching a robot how to deal with real-world problems is a challenging task. There has been much progress in building robots that can precisely repeat individual tasks with a level of speed and accuracy impossible for human craftspeople. But there are many more tasks that could be done if robots could be supplied with even a limited amount of judgment. A robotics group led by Professor Sylvain Calinon at the Italian Institute of Technology is making progress in solving this problem and has developed a robot whose purpose in life is to help a person build an IKEA table."
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Teachable Robot Helps Assemble IKEA Furniture

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  • by Kinthelt (96845) on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @09:00AM (#43535527) Homepage

    If they could now re-design the robot so that it could be shipped in flat boxes and assembled with an allen key, then that would be a huge step forward. Oh wait...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by garcia (6573)

      If they could now re-design a furniture store where customers would buy furniture which would be then delivered to their homes already assembled would be a huge step forward. Oh wait...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If only they could re-design people to be able to follow pictorial step-by-step instructions without embedding an allen key in their eye socket...

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        If they'd only invent a robot which could find a parking space, get into the store, pay for it and then take it back to its space assemble it, we wouldn't need so many people =)

    • by Kjella (173770)

      A robot army that could assemble itself from flat storage - assuming one is operational for the original assembly or hand assembled does sound like something from a sci-fi plot about world domination...

    • You mean something like this [youtube.com]?

    • it could be easily assembled by a robot...rather than design the robot around a human table building design.

  • The bad news is that you need to first assemble the robot.
  • The Italian Institute of Technology has "developed a robot whose purpose in life is to help a person build an IKEA table." and effectively traversing Dante's 9 circles of hell. Bravo!
    • Every time I've put together an IKEA project, there was always a mistake somewhere in the drawings. I had to stare at the pieces, then the intructions for a good half hour before the, "Oh! That's what's wrong!" intuitive leap got made in my brain.

      A computer being logical, would have to be able to adjust for human error, so it would need to be able to 'think' like an illogical human. Until that leap in computer logic happens, they'll always need human guidance.

      Now, where did I put that allen wrench key?

      • If the drawings in the IKEA instructions in a given match what you have assembled so far, that's usually not the fault of the intrsuctions...

        • If the drawings in the IKEA instructions in a given match what you have assembled so far, that's usually not the fault of the intrsuctions...

          I'd always have the correct amount of parts (after swearing something was missing, I'd find it). There'd be a sticker missing on a board, or the instructions weren't clear enough, there was always something amiss enough for me to have to disassemble a halfway assembled project, invert a board, then it goes together right. And the pre-bored glue-pressed boards have a low threshhold of strength, and begin to disintegrate if stressed. Blame the human assembler to a point, the plans are never precise enough. Wh

      • Re:Dante's Inferno (Score:4, Informative)

        by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @10:28AM (#43536343)

        You know, I keep reading these sorts of things, and it puzzles me. "I've never had an IKEA kit that wasn't screwed up somehow." "I've never had an IKEA instruction set that didn't have a mistake." I've bought I a fair amount of IKEA furniture (and am planning to get more in the near future) and never had any of these problems. I've had exactly one problem with IKEA furniture, and that was my fault (I assembled a shelf piece backwards so that the unfinished edge faced out). What am I doing wrong?

        • by Politburo (640618)
          Nothing. People having problems putting together IKEA furniture is a classic case of PEBKAC.
        • by Inda (580031)
          Nothing.

          I've gone one stage further. Furniture board is cheap, furniture blocks are cheap, screws are cheap, edging tape is cheap, ..., and my local builder's merchant gives me 20 free cuts from his super-sharp rip/cross-cut saw. I just supply him with a cutting list. I've actually had some fun designing things on Google's Sketch-up, and dimensioning is a breeze.

          I do buy draw enclosures readymade, as they're a pain to make solid and the fronts are beyond the tools I have at home.

          The edging tape is simply ir
      • Re:Dante's Inferno (Score:5, Informative)

        by slim (1652) <john@nOspam.hartnup.net> on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @10:45AM (#43536513) Homepage

        I'm always tremendously impressed by the accuracy of Ikea instructions, and the little tricks they put into the design to make it more foolproof. I've bought flatpack furniture from other sources, and there tends to be much more to go wrong. Ikea do things like ensure that screws and screw-holes won't line up if you try to join the wrong two parts.

        Ikea seem to iterate their designs (the ones they don't phase out) to make them easier to assemble, and cheaper to produce. When I first bought Billy shelving, over a decade ago, it was uniformly laminated. When I bought some more, years later, they'd ascertained which surfaces would be concealed, and used non-matching laminate (presumably cheap, remaindered stock) for those parts.

  • by Racemaniac (1099281) on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @09:16AM (#43535675)

    i mean isn't that the only difficulty of assembling ikea furniture? reading the manual instead of just diving in and hoping you'll figure it out yourself?

    of course, then the issue would become how would people be able to comprehend how this bot works, if they don't read manuals, so we'd need a bot to help you read the manual for this bot, but...

    hmm, this 'll never work!

    • by game kid (805301)

      of course, then the issue would become how would people be able to comprehend how this bot works, if they don't read manuals, so we'd need a bot to help you read the manual for this bot, but...

      No, that's simple. Just shrug the details off as "intellectual property" [slashdot.org] and everyone will be both convinced that it works and scared to make anything similar.

    • by LoRdTAW (99712)

      One frustrating part is when you realize that some panels might be unfinished along a single edge and that panel can be assembled backwards and still fit. It might not be that obvious in the instructions. Also, some panels that are for drawer support can also be assembled backwards with the holes for the drawer track facing the wrong way.

      Those two problems bit me when I was helping my brother and his girlfriend furnish their new apartment. We assembled a TV stand with the drawer panel in backwards and an un

    • i mean isn't that the only difficulty of assembling ikea furniture? reading the manual instead of just diving in and hoping you'll figure it out yourself?

      Often times the dive-in approach is required at some stage -- even if you RTFM -- due to incompleteness or mistake laden documentation.
      In other words: T M is to F'd to R.

      • Re:RTFM bot? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @11:38AM (#43537075)

        i mean isn't that the only difficulty of assembling ikea furniture? reading the manual instead of just diving in and hoping you'll figure it out yourself?

        Often times the dive-in approach is required at some stage -- even if you RTFM -- due to incompleteness or mistake laden documentation.
          In other words: T M is to F'd to R.

        Strange, the IKEA instructions tend to be fairly good. Perhaps because they have people actually testing them?

        The only real time I just "dove in" was when there was very little provided other than a quick-start guide with the rest of the documentation on PDF somewhere. In which case reading the docs is more work than just diving in. But since IKEA, Nintendo and others provide full printed docs, I tend to read them because it's a lot easier to sit down with the thing and the manual.

        Hell, the IKEA ones tend to be printed on large paper that sits flat and shows a lot of detail, rather than cost save and print it on tiny slips where reproduction is poor and details become smudges.

        Oh I know the problem! IKEA manuals assume you have a brain! That's it., the manuals don't hand hold you through the process. You have to figure out which way a piece is supposed to go (to hide the unlaminated surface and figure out which way is up). You also have to interpret drawings that assume a working knowledge of the tools and parts that came in the kit. The instructions are too intellectual for most of the population!

        • by dinfinity (2300094) on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @12:31PM (#43537771)

          Oh I know the problem! IKEA manuals assume you have a brain!

          This is exactly right.

          In reality, assembling IKEA stuff isn't much (if any) harder than assembling a certain LEGO design (which most 8 year old children have very little difficulties with).
          The whole bitching about assembling IKEA furniture is nothing more than a popular meme originating from and perpetuated by people who consider everything that requires slightly more mental effort than scratching their ass and operating a TV remote a burden.

          These are the same people who find operating a microwave or a washing machine mystifying ("How DO they work??").

          • To be fair, I have to disagree somewhat.

            When I moved into the townhouse our family is in now, I bought a lot of IKEA furniture (vs. trying to deal with dis-assembly and moving of existing stuff that wasn't worth the moving expenses to transport anyway).

            As I started putting a number of items together, I realized they have a number of common methods of assembly. For example, a dresser, a nightstand or a bed with drawers underneath generally uses the exact same hardware and the same assembly concepts to build

            • This was something like 5-6 big boxes worth of parts, and involved some assembly that was a real challenge to do by myself.

              That is besides the point. The IKEA-construction meme revolves around having parts left over and lack of understanding of the intended assembly process.
              That is markedly different from construction being difficult when done alone.

              Furthermore, I just looked at the type of bed you mentioned and the second page of the assembly instructions actually very intuitively makes clear that assembly should be done with two people:
              http://www.ikea.com/us/en/assembly_instructions/brimnes-bed-frame-with-storage__AA-473492-1 [ikea.com]

  • Another white people problem solved by other whites.

    How about accomplishing something meaningful for minorities for a change?

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Another white people problem solved by other whites.

      How about accomplishing something meaningful for minorities for a change?

      Well they're doing something for the muslims [slashdot.org]

    • How about accomplishing something meaningful for minorities for a change?

      They are. Whites will be the minority around 2050 [businessinsider.com].

      They're just looking towards the future rather than living in the past where no black, hispanic or asian person ever shoped at an IKEA.
    • by Arrepiadd (688829)

      Another white people problem solved by other whites.

      How about accomplishing something meaningful for minorities for a change?

      I think IKEA sells furniture to those as well.

    • You want to be packaged in the box with my new bookshelf?
  • by Dancindan84 (1056246) on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @09:24AM (#43535755)

    The wanted to have it learn how to solve the Riemann hypothesis, but decided to go with a more difficult task instead.

  • What does it do when it doesn't get all of the pieces in the box?
    • by operagost (62405)
      If it's anything like my reaction in that situation, we definitely don't want to be around. Because they're made of metal, and robots are strong.
  • by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @09:33AM (#43535843) Homepage
    difficult to engineer than most people think. tasks involved in ikea assembly are uniquely human and should be given substantial consideration in my opinion. Features id like to see in this robot are:

    1. the ability to identify the product as an exclusive export of the country of sweden, despite gratuitous labeling that confirms its chinese origin
    2. capable of roaming inside an ikea store for more than 4 hours while a simulated 'wife' process randomly generates and discards a database of product selections
    3. a packing and sorting method to attach an ikea product to or inside of a vehicle in such a manner as to require its occupants to either hold it with their hands or contort out of its way for a transit duration of no less than 25 minutes.
    4. the ability to process the most difficult or time consuming outcomes of manufacturing the product. this should be done while exposed to both the instruction manual, and the tiny wrench included.
    5. the ability to dynamically generate explitives in realtime while constructing the product. this is important as ive found most ikea furnature will not assemble properly unless confronted with a broad range of offensive, confusing and nonsensical phrases.
    6. the ability to expound historical facts about the country of sweden while consuming confections and "meat balls" inside an actual ikea. for this to work properly the food stuffs must be violently ejected from the rear of the robot afterwards.
    • Seems like a fancy piece of software and some R&D never hurts, but as an industrial automation engineer i dont think its possible to actually sell a robot like that. Its not possible to make it safe as per regulations. Safety pretty much dooms any designs where fully functional robot and human must share workspace Safety is not a condition of "Its safe when operator isnt doing something silly, software hasnt crashed, camera doesnt have a splatter of operators blood on it and there is no mechanical or e
  • How about designing a robot whose purpose in life is to help a person 3d print missing screws and bolts from said IKEA tables? That would be useful.

    • by csumpi (2258986)
      A: Rarely happens.
      B: They give you bags of screws for free at IKEA if you find any missing.
      C: Can't print metal.
      D: The price of Robot, Printer, Metal filament, time spent Designing, Printing, would greatly outweigh any argument against option B.
      • by olip85 (1770514)

        A: Rarely happens.

        B: They give you bags of screws for free at IKEA if you find any missing.

        C: Can't print metal.

        D: The price of Robot, Printer, Metal filament, time spent Designing, Printing, would greatly outweigh any argument against option B.

        A: You would be surprized
        B: Not everybody lives close to an IKEA. I live hundreds of kilometers from an IKEA.
        C: It does not HAVE to be metal. Anything sturdy enough can replace metal.
        D: ? That's not the point.

  • I'm imagining the graphical programming language used to feed it instructions....
  • It seems to me they taught the robot to perform an almost completely unnecessary task. You might as well leave the tabletop on the floor and then screw in the legs.

    Now, if the human would hold the tabletop near the robot, and the robot would pick up the legs and screw them in, that would be something.

    • by slim (1652)

      It seems to me they taught the robot to perform an almost completely unnecessary task.

      Well, in this specific task, yes. But more generally what they've done could be useful. Their actual achievement is to program a robot so that it can learn by observation when to go from one task to another. The human wants the robot to help him position the table, then he wants the robot to hold it still. The robot infers when to stop moving, and start holding still, based on the movement of the human (and the table leg).

      It's just a toy problem for research, and the techniques can be used for other situati

    • Now, if the human would hold the tabletop near the robot, and the robot would pick up the legs and screw them in, that would be something.

      Or, if the human could just relax on the tabletop while the robot screwed it, that would be something.

  • But can it qualify for a boat loan?

  • Intelligent robots have already exceeded my mental ability? I knew it. First it's noodles, then it's IKEA furniture, then it's the world's thermonuclear weapons. Oh, will we ever learn....?

  • welcome our new furniture assembling robot overlords
  • This is a an example of what Adam Carolla refers to as the pussyfication of America in his book titled In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks [amazon.com], just s/America/Whole World/.

    Seriously, if assembling IKEA furniture is a "real life problem", then we got much bigger problems. On a side note, wouldn't having to buy a robot defeat the purpose of buying cheap semi-diy semi-permanent furniture?
  • At the time, I never imagined that a childhood spent playing with a Danish toy [lego.com] would prepare me to someday be quite proficient at assembling Swedish furniture.
  • The IKEA robots have been combined with the cute robots who persuade people to tell them their innermost secrets [yahoo.com].

    You'll be able to watch yourself on TV blabbing your innermost secrets while sitting on cheap furniture.

  • Make a robot that can disassemble a piece of IKEA furniture and reassemble it without it collapsing the next time it's used! Then you have something!

  • I'm glad someone can assemble Ikea furniture!

  • by Invisible Now (525401) on Wednesday April 24, 2013 @03:06PM (#43539267)

    John McCarthy, who coined the term Artificial Intelligence, once said:

    "We sent a grant proposal to ARPA a while ago. We proposed to build an AI Robot system that could read the instructions and assemble a Heathkit radio. We estimated the project would take 18 months and cost $87,000."

    Everyone sitting in the Stanford AI class laughed.

    "It always seems we're just 18 months and $87,000 away from everything in AI..." John concluded.

    The year was 1975...

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo. - Andy Finkel, computer guy

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