Robots have been good at keeping our floors clean and some have started working as receptionists but the household robots of our dreams are still far from real. Researchers, however, are slowly but surely making small steps towards the development of a general purpose, household robot. Pieter Abbeel and his students at the University of Berkley and in collaboration with Willow Garage have developed a new algorithm that allows a humanoid robot to fold towels, a very challenging task.
In the past, many researchers have shown how a robot can pick-up and manipulate rigid objects. The Berkley researchers have now developed a method for determining the corner points of a non-rigid object useful for grasping it and then using the PR2 showed how it works in having the robot fold towels left on a table.
This is how it works,
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.
Sounds good doesn’t it? Other than the fact that it takes the robot a considerable amount of time to complete its task (on average it takes the PR2 nearly 1500 seconds to fold a towel) this is one of the coolest robot manipulation demos I have seen recently. If they can get the PR2 to wash my dishes, do my laundry, vacuum my floors, cook my dinner, pick-up my groceries, and walk my dog, then I will be a very happy man (I would also have more time to update this blog 🙂 ).
You can watch the robot in action in the video below.