Robot Couple Builds IKEA Table Without Ripping Each Other’s Heads Off

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 10 2013 11:36 AM

Robot Couple Builds IKEA Table Without Ripping Each Other’s Heads Off

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IKEA-assembling robots could save untold relationships

Photo by PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images

Last week at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, researchers from MIT demonstrated how a tag team of KUKA youBots can figure out how to assemble an IKEA Lack table without ripping the directions out of each other’s hands even once. “Just like many Americans would do, we throw out that instruction book,” Ross Knepper, a postdoctoral student at MIT, says in a video recorded at the conference.

The robots assemble the table using only CAD files that describe the pieces they have to work with and a geometric reasoning system that helps them figure out what pieces go where. The little guys don’t even start off with a preprogrammed destination or finished product in mind—they just figure out what the pieces should create. Watch them in action:

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The robots divide labor according to which unit is best suited for each task, presumably without the least bit of passive-aggressiveness. MIT even created a special arm attachment made of magnets and rubber bands that allows one of the bots to turn the table’s legs.

When the robot couple is finished, they work together to turn the table right-side-up—a task neither could complete on its own. There is no high-five. Nor does the video show the robots spending hours rearranging everything else in the room to accommodate the new table.

This isn’t the first IKEA robotics project we’ve seen. A month ago, the Italian Institute of Technology had taught a robot to hold the other end of an IKEA piece so your human arms were free to fumble with Allen wrenches, making a highly expensive piece of technology about as useful as your buddy that only shows up for the free moving day pizza and beer.

In the future, the MIT team intends to generalize the collaboration so the robots can assemble all sorts of furniture. How many marriages will the IkeaBot system save? Only time will tell.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.

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