Robot arms build IKEA furniture so that you don’t have to


If you’ve ever had the pleasure of building IKEA furniture, you’ve probably come to know that it can come with a very unique set of problems. Manuals don’t always offer exact instructions but instead pictures, you’re often left with pieces that just don’t seem to go anywhere and you’re really not sure why, etc. Plenty of people have joked about how building IKEA furniture is its very own sort of damnation (though honestly, anything I’ve built from IKEA was pretty straightforward, full disclosure). If you’re in the camp that hates flat-packed furniture and can’t stand the thought of building a DOMBÅS for your bedroom, you might be happy to know that researchers have trained a pair of robot arms to build a STEFAN chair from IKEA. Next step: HURDAL.

The build itself was broken into three distinct phases: scan, plan, build. During the scanning phase, the robotic arms as well as a 3D camera scanned all of the pieces in order to tell where everything was in relation to everything else. That part went pretty quickly, lasting right around 3 seconds. Planning took quite a lot longer, with the arms remaining motionless while all of the parts and instructions were calculated in order to figure out the best way to proceed. Planning took 11:21.

Finally, building. The robots were obviously fed the manual for STEFAN ahead of time and weren’t just putting things together willy nilly. The build was, however, tweaked a bit in order for the arms to work together better. In early tests, both arms would grip the same piece, and not being able to determine which should be using that piece at that time, would end up breaking parts of the chair. Some tweaking allowed for greater cooperation and sharing, and the chair ultimately came together in just under nine minutes, 8:55.

You can see the chair getting built in this sped up video from the researchers below:

Science Magazine pitted several employees against the robots to see who could complete the chair more quickly. The humans did win, though only barely. They also had the benefit of two additional arms and the ability to more easily communicate and cooperate during the building process. I would imagine that if the robotic arms were to build multiple chairs in a row, the planning time would at a minimum decrease, and possibly practically disappear, making the total time come down quite quickly.

Now really, most people aren’t going to get a pair of robotic arms just to keep from having to build IKEA furniture, but it’s still a pretty cool proof-of-concept to show that they’re able to get it sorted mostly on their own and in such a short time. You can read more about what went into this testing in the paper published in Science Robotics.

What do you think about robot IKEA furniture builders? Tell us all about it in the comment section below, or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

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