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This Robot’s Struggle to Build an IKEA Chair Will Make You Feel Better

We are all this robot.

by Jordan Pearson
Sep 28 2015, 5:55pm

Screengrab: YouTube

It's Monday morning, it's raining, and my body is still purging the weekend's poisons. In short, I'm feeling some post-weekend regret, but watching a highly advanced robot struggle (and eventually succeed) to assemble a small part of an IKEA chair is reminding me that everything works out in the end. May it help you, too.

The robot has two mechanical arms outfitted with basic grippers. They can't manipulate objects after they grab hold, but they do have sensors that can detect how much force the robot is exerting on the objects it grasps, as well as how strongly it pushes two things together. Six cameras make up its vision system.

It's pretty impressive stuff, but the robot's attempt to fit a wooden dowel into a hole only manages to evoke my own process for building IKEA furniture: getting wasted and sitting cross-legged on the floor, trying over and over again to complete basic tasks. Other applications for this method include getting my key into the lock of my front door after a night out.

GIF: YouTube

I feel you, buddy.

It's oddly satisfying to watch a robot struggle to do something I can complete in about three seconds flat, as long as I haven't been drinking my IKEA-borne woes away. Still, as the MIT Technology Review notes, actually getting the dowel into the hole is pretty impressive, even if it took a while. Fine motor control is still a hurdle modern robotics research is still trying to overcome.

The researchers behind the robot, Francisco Suarez-Ruiz and Quang-Cuong Pham from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, aren't stopping their work at fitting dowels into holes, either. Their goal, they state in a paper published to the ArXiv preprint server, is to eventually build a robot that can construct an IKEA chair—a task that requires on-the-fly decision making, dexterity, and situational awareness.

GIF: YouTube

Building an IKEA chair from start to finish is so difficult right now that the task is being considered to make up part of a proposed "Turing championship"—a set of challenges that aim to determine whether a robot really displays something we can call intelligence or not.

Even though the work clearly has a long way to go, it's easy to see how a robot of this kind could one day assemble furniture with at least as much competence as me, as long as it hasn't been hitting the bottle. Thankfully, robots can't feel IKEA rage.

Until then, you can offload your weekend regrets by watching this robot take shot after shot at its goal, and fail every time until it finally gets it. One too many drinks made your Sunday a living hell? Lost your phone (again)? Post-hookup regret?

GIF: YouTube

Don't sweat it—you've got this.