There’s a lot of fascinating robotics work being done these days, although it is disheartening to see how much of it is designed to help kill people or just kill them outright. But not all of it and over at Boingboing there was an example of a project designed to do household chores. We already have Roombas to clean the floor and a lot of laundry is sort of automated (at least the wash, scrub, rinse, dry cycles are). But then there’s the unpleasant task of taking them out of the washing machine, dumping them into the drier, taking them out of the drier and folding them. The firs three of these would seem to be pretty straightforward to automate, but folding them is a challenge. In fact, Mrs. R. says I am naturally folding-challenged, which is not only true but a convenient way for me to get out of doing an unpleasant chore. On the other hand it would be nice if neither of us had to do it. We need a robot.
That’s where this amazing video clip comes in. It shows a robot folding towels after picking them up from a haphazardly dumped pile on a table. This is the product of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, and before you start deploring how our tax dollars are being used, just take a look at this and tell me it isn’t really mindboggling that you could get a robot to do this task, which is not at all trivial. Here is the Abstract of the paper which is to appear in the proceedings of the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) this year:
We present a novel vision-based grasp point detection algorithm that can reliably detect the corners of a piece of cloth, using only geometric cues that are robust to variation in texture. Furthermore, we demonstrate the effectiveness of our algorithm in the context of folding a towel using a generalpurpose two-armed mobile robotic platform without the use of specialized end-effectors or tools. The robot begins by picking up a randomly dropped towel from a table, goes through a sequence of vision-based re-grasps and manipulations? partially in the air, partially on the table?and finally stacks the folded towel in a target location. The reliability and robustness of our algorithm enables for the first time a robot with general purpose manipulators to reliably and fully-autonomously fold previously unseen towels, demonstrating success on all 50 out of 50 single-towel trials as well as on a pile of 5 towels. (J. Maitin-Shepard, M. Cusumano-Towner, J. Lei and P. Abbeel, Cloth Grasp Point Detection based on Multiple-View Geometric Cues with Application to Robotic Towel Folding; hat tip Boingboing)
And here it is: