Flap A into Slot B? Easier Done than Said…

A number of articles appeared this week showing robots struggling to assemble IKEA furniture. We can all relate to that. Some of us may even take comfort in knowing that, after a decade of trying, robots are still a long way from catching up to humans when it comes to accomplishing tasks in a messy environment. Those looking for help snapping together a bookcase — well, it may be on the way; just don’t hold your breath.

Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University have been running tests tasking robots with assembling IKEA chairs. Turns out, hunting around for parts, then figuring out where to place them, all without letting go of a partially assembled puzzle — challenging enough for humans — is like scaling Mount Everest for a robot. Even a robot equipped with two arms with six-axis motion, each of these outfitted with parallel grippers containing force sensors. Also, a six-camera vision system able to track up to five objects with a positional accuracy of approximately three millimetres.

It’s not a matter of inadequate proprioceptive feedback. Nor is it a lack of so-called artificial intelligence — after all, today’s robots are clever enough to take the SAT. No, it’s more about what might be termed ‘street smarts’, coupled with some fast moves. In other words, improvising.

Thinking on your feet.

That’s why, when it comes to industrial robotics, we at Inuktun believe any quick thinking should be left to the humans in the room. Our robot is there to do the hard work and heavy lifting, at YOUR command. It’s what what makes our multi-mission, modular technology able to remotely survey confined spaces, hazardous environments, even underwater.

So it’s no surprise robots suck at putting furniture together — if they’re doing their job, they’re following those incomprehensible instructions to the letter!