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Towel-folding robot won't do the dishes

Researchers at UC Berkeley teach Willow Garage's PR2 humanoid robot how to fold a pile of towels. It's one step toward making robots better at housework.

University of California at Berkeley

If you hate folding laundry, you might like what you see in a recent video from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley. They programmed a robot to fold towels.

The researchers used Willow Garage's PR2, a general-purpose humanoid robot with two seven-axis arms and a wheeled base. In an ICRA 2010 paper, they present a cloth-grasping algorithm for getting the robot to pick up and fold towels it hadn't previously analyzed.

Fitted with four stereo cameras, PR2 was able to successfully figure out, grasp, and fold 50 single towels, as well as a pile of five towels, though it sometimes took more than one attempt to get a hold of a towel properly. It had an 81 percent grasp success rate.

It first twisted the towel to find a corner, grasped it, then found another corner, and folded it by using the edge of a table.

The video shows PR2 doing quite a neat job, but it doesn't show how long it took. The most time-consuming part of the procedure was detecting a point to grasp.

The paper says the robot took an average of 1,478 seconds on each towel. That's nearly 25 minutes to pick up, fold, and stack a towel. Not bad if you have all week to do the laundry.

Still, the experiment shows that general-purpose humanoid robots, with all-purpose manipulators, can be successfully programmed for practical tasks around the home. The Berkeley team says the procedure could be used for detecting grasp points on different types of clothing, so PR2 could theoretically deal with that pile of clean (yet now-wrinkled) T-shirts, jeans, socks, and underwear in your laundry basket.

(Via Singularity Hub)