A significant advancement in technology or one step closer to robots stealing our jobs? That's the question many asked once it was announced that a robot assembled an Ikea chair by itself. Everyone recognizes Ikea for its affordable furniture, but headache-inducing assembly process. That's why the company recently acquired TaskRabbit to help customers assemble their products. But now it looks like robots may be able of doing the same thing.
The Groundbreaking Assembly
A report from Science Today found that a robot with two arms, force sensors, and a 3-D camera was able to assemble a Stefan Ikea chair in a record 20 minutes. Scientists gave their robots instructions in code form. The bots then use their 3-D camera to identify pieces and follow the steps given.
Even basic tasks such as putting a peg into a hole is difficult for bots. The arm holding the peg detects the hole by identifying a pressure change-signaling that it's time to apply force. However, it's possible for the bot to miss the area entirely if its cameras and sensors don't register the hole.
Robots struggle with calculating an item's weight, shape, and dimensions - something which comes easily to most people. For example, robots in Amazon's warehouse can help pack and ship boxes if they are all the same size and shape. It's difficult for them to determine where to grab and how much force to apply.
One of the hardest parts is when both arms have to grab the same piece, especially when the item has different dimensions on both ends. The arms must calculate their force and motion for themselves and how it will interact with the other arm. A simple error, such as both arms moving in opposite directions, can break the pieces they're trying to assemble.
There's Science, Too
Luckily, scientists have found a solution here too. They've applied force sensors to each arm to help them calculate movement. Engineer Quang-Cuong Pham of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore says that the final stage is for robots to be able to assemble furniture after merely looking at a completing picture. Pham estimates that this could take five to six years.
This achievement is an excellent example of how both robots & AI can make our lives easier by automating the tasks that nobody wants to perform (let's be serious.. no one wants to assemble IKEA furniture). It also shows that we've got quite a long way to go before we worry about jobs being automated-and an even longer time before some robot apocalypse uprising. The way I see it? It's a win/win.
Now, I wonder what's on sale at IKEA, and if we can add-on 'Robot Installation'.