Robot will fold your laundry in only a day and a half!

And it very likely won't freak out and kill or fold you.

The goal of Pieter Abbeel’s group is to teach a robot to solve the laundry problem. That is, to develop a system to enable a robot to go into a home it's never seen before, load and unload a washer and dryer, and then fold the clean clothes and put them away just like you would. The first aspect of this problem that the group tackled was folding, which is one of those things that seems trivial to us but is very difficult for a robot to figure out since clothes are floppy, unpredictable, and often decorated with tasteless and complicated colors and patterns.

Last year, the Berkeley PR2 (unofficially named Brett, for “Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks”) showed us that it could pick a towel out of a pile of clean laundry one by one and neatly fold and stack them, which was an impressive demo. Somewhat less impressive was the fact that the robot would take between 20 and 25 minutes to neatly fold one single towel, which, let's face it, isn't entirely practical. That time has now been cut down to under six minutes, with the potential for as little as two minutes per towel if they really crank the robot up.

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16 Responses:

  1. It really looks like it's hungry for laundry.

  2. Adam says:

    My dad is the facilities manager at a big (120ksqft) industrial laundry facility. They have robots/machines that can fold fitted sheets. And they do it at high speed too - none of this hesitation and 20-minutes per piece crap. Granted, they're in an assembly line / workcell, rather than 'totally dynamic environment', but still. Maybe they just need to get people to ship their dirty laundry to big facilities and have them handle it that way.

    • Bradley says:

      I refuse to believe that folding fitted sheets is physically possible.

    • NotTheBuddha says:

      Can we see any videos of your dad's robots?

    • Ben Brockert says:

      Ah, but are they loaded by humans, or can you dump a load of sheets in the machine and have folded sheets come out? I've run robotic production lines before, there's a whole lot of "and then for minimum wage someone will do this not perfectly straightforward part".

      • Adam says:

        Minimum wage workers in clean suits separate the dirty linens into 'types', yes. There are people at the front end, separating dirties, and people at the back end, loading folded sheets into stacks on trucks to be redelivered.

  3. Chris Davies says:

    No, it will kill you. Just as soon as it figures out that killing you is easier than folding your damn clothes. Best not to give it any spare time to think.

  4. Amazing to watch! I wonder what a diagnostic image dump of the various decisions being made by the sensors would look like.

    (Although I've always been mesmerized by watching complex machinery operate - the Krispy Kreme machine [ ] had me similarly fascinated)

  5. Dan says:

    Someone "cranking the robot up". This is what is going to kill us all.

  6. DFB says:

    The PR2 is designed and built in Menlo Park by Scott Hassan's (one of the first handfull Google programmers; also did eGroups / Yahoo Groups and Alexa) Willow Garage.

  7. Jay says:

    I'm totally going to hold my arms like this whenever I am thinking now.

    • DFB says:

      You raise a good point. It would probably make sense to have the arms in the field of view while planning to calibrate the servo positioning, but perhaps it is more efficient and easier to keep them out of the field of view. I doubt it.