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and it only takes 20 to 25 minutes per towel!
April 7, 2010 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Towel folding robot folds towels. Stacking ensues. Robot designer Pieter Abbeel's interesting commentary here.
posted by flapjax at midnite (48 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
"replace “towels” with “humans” and “folding” with “murdering...."

Personally though, I thought it was positively dainty how it holds the rag up to examine it before folding.
posted by cashman at 7:49 AM on April 7, 2010


Coincidentally, slowly elongating your torso while folding the towel is considered ergonomically correct for humans, too. It stretches out the spine and allows you to replace light bulbs in the ceiling later.
posted by ardgedee at 7:55 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love the top comment:
This robot exists in order to demonstrate a solution to the problem of finding and retaining perception of edges in a flexible and constantly changing topography. It's an important perception problem for autonomous robots.
...Reading these comments is somewhere between visiting Bedlam to mock the insane and just despairing at the ignorance on parade. I think the robot is smarter than 3/4 of the people here.
In fact, I love it so much I tried to rate it up. I was immediately taken away from the video and to a login page. Why am I allowed to press buttons that don't work? Answer: The robot is also smarter than 3/4 of the programming staff of YouTube.
posted by DU at 7:58 AM on April 7, 2010 [8 favorites]


The robot's all like, "Leopard print! The fuck?! OK, I guess I'll fold it. Humans."
posted by dirigibleman at 7:58 AM on April 7, 2010 [12 favorites]


If the idea is to find edges visually, this is great. If the idea is to fold towels, however, visual location of edges is terrible. You find a corner by running your hand along an edge, not by looking for corners with your eyes.
posted by DU at 8:01 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Watching a robot doing such a domestic chore made me think of Rosie, the robot maid from the Jetsons.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 8:02 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


How helpful! Domo arigato, Mister Roboto!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:07 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, Mister J.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:07 AM on April 7, 2010


That robot is so gentle with the towels. I would totally let it take care of my baby.
posted by contessa at 8:12 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I saw this the other day. Keep in mind the video is sped way up. That's what the 50x means in the title.

But at the same time, this is pretty incredible. If it can fold towels now, how long before it can sew them? Imagine replacing all the worlds swetshops with robots. Probably an unappealing proposition for some, but this really what the future of manufacturing is going to be.

Right now you can can buy robots that can see and pick up solid objects. If this technology ends up more wide spread, garment manufacture could be come as automated as the manufacture of metal and plastic objects today.

(But I suppose it might be a while before the prices become cheap enough, and the robots become fast enough)
posted by delmoi at 8:13 AM on April 7, 2010


In fact, I love it so much I tried to rate it up. I was immediately taken away from the video and to a login page. Why am I allowed to press buttons that don't work? Answer: The robot is also smarter than 3/4 of the programming staff of YouTube.
What exactly is the problem? The button would have worked if you'd had a youtube logon. You press, you log on if needed, and then your rating goes through.
posted by delmoi at 8:14 AM on April 7, 2010


I don't know about this. Am I to believe that the best way for an autonomous robot to fold and stack towels just happens to be the most endearing way?
posted by The Potate at 8:16 AM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


This would be more impressive if the robot didn't fold everything all wrong.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2010


How helpful! Domo arigato, Mister Roboto!

No, no... this is an American robot. "Thank you" will be sufficient. Here's who you want to say "domo arigato" to, although you might want to add a "gozaimasu" to that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:20 AM on April 7, 2010


Stupid robot can't iron a shirt, I'll wager.
posted by Mister_A at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2010


This would be more impressive if the robot didn't fold everything all wrong.

It's a male robot. The one that puts dishes in the dishwasher has the same problem.
posted by madmethods at 8:37 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a male robot. The one that puts dishes in the dishwasher has the same problem.

His wife is an adulterer, is what you're saying?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:43 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


delmoi: “What exactly is the problem? The button would have worked if you'd had a youtube logon.

I think his point is that it's stupid to display the button to non-logged-in users; the interface elements displayed to a user ought to equate to the permissions they currently possess. I.e., here on Metafilter, non-logged-in users aren't shown the comment box or posting buttons, because they can't use them. If you want to comment, you have to first sign in. If they were shown to everyone, a lot of people would write up a comment only to be presented with a login prompt, and that's annoying and user-hostile.

Personally I think there's a sort of arrogance in it; an assumption that of course everyone who happens to be using the site has a login, or wants to get one. It's common, but irritating.

Anyway... I thought the video was interesting, particularly because it shows all the extra steps you need to go through in order to fold towels visually. As others have pointed out, when a human folds something, we find the corners mostly by feel, or by augmenting or vision with touch input. We also un-twist the corners the same way. The robot apparently doesn't have much in the way of tactile input, so it does everything via sight, and there's a lot of extra motion involved.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:47 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


He holds them like they smell.
And he has a nose.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 8:48 AM on April 7, 2010


Here's who you want to say "domo arigato" to

Robots bravely sacrificing their robotalia for our entertainment.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:49 AM on April 7, 2010


the interface elements displayed to a user ought to equate to the permissions they currently possess.

That, or at least indicate that you will be yoinked from your current context. I was reading the comment and (attempting to) rate it during a lull in the video, but I wasn't done watching it. In order to watch the remainder, I had to hit the Back button and then fast forward to where I thought I was.
posted by DU at 9:14 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems odd to me that after doing all the crazy math required to figure out how to grab the corners, it still takes so long just to figure out how to rotate its hands so that the towel is flat.

I think most people here are vastly underestimating the complexity of "feeling the edges" in order to find the corners of a towel. Mimicking a human "mess around with the towel until you feel the edge" process would require 10x the CPU, and at least 100x the hardware complexity of the method shown.

Try doing it yourself with a couple pairs of tongs with your eyes closed. Even then, you're still relying on an intuitive knack for manipulating dynamic, flexible objects in 3-space that is entirely foreign to a machine.
posted by CaseyB at 9:25 AM on April 7, 2010


I love how the robot doesn't even have a head, but I still see it lifting up the towel like, "Whaaaa the fuuuck is this?" And then it folds it and comes back and it's like, "Whaaaa the fuuuck is this?" And again...
posted by iamkimiam at 9:27 AM on April 7, 2010 [10 favorites]


I am such an anthropomorphizing fool. So when I got to the end of the video, I kinda felt like when the robot got to the end of the pile and saw that there were no more towels...I imagine it just sitting there still, but with its back to us, sad but waiting for just one more. It started to grow fond of the surprise, as if something different would happen with the next one. "No more towels? Now what the fuck do I do?"
posted by iamkimiam at 9:39 AM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love how the robot doesn't even have a head, but I still see it lifting up the towel like, "Whaaaa the fuuuck is this?" And then it folds it and comes back and it's like, "Whaaaa the fuuuck is this?" And again...

That made me laugh really hard, and also go back and replay the video with this mentally dubbed in.
posted by codacorolla at 9:40 AM on April 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ok, one more thing...Can you imagine having a Mr. Hal the Towel-Folder in your home? "CAN YOU TURN IT DOWN WITH THE TOWEL-FOLDING IM TRYING TO WATCH TV!!!!"
posted by iamkimiam at 9:51 AM on April 7, 2010


Can it do green towels?
posted by aubilenon at 9:59 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


but this really what the future of manufacturing is going to be.

I personally don't think so, at least not in the next 50 years. if there's one thing that the Chinese have taught me it's that low wage workers make the best robots.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2010


If I was the engineer, I would have designed a robot that folded towels while nonchalantly whistling "All Along the Watchtower."
posted by bicyclefish at 10:15 AM on April 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I do not think it would be wise to put robots in charge of handling one of our greatest weapons against them when the robot uprising happens. (Towels would be just as effective as blankets, of course, cf. link above.)
posted by chambers at 10:17 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


You just inspired a REALLY scary thought. Can you imagine how fast and tight these robots could twist the towels and flick them? YIKES.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:22 AM on April 7, 2010


As much as all the advancements in anthropomorphic abilities in robots seems sort of existentially terrifying, I do notice that it takes a fairly well-sized robot to fold towels, and that's all it can do; it takes another fairly well-sized robot to solve a Rubik's cube, jump rope, etc., whatever other charming things we've gotten robots to do. So even with Moore's law, it still seems like a pretty goddam long way off before we get human-sized robots that can do even a handful of human-like things, much less real androids.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2010


This would be more impressive if the robot didn't fold everything all wrong.

I know! I kept wanting to reach into the screen and refold the towels into thirds.
posted by amyms at 12:23 PM on April 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


I, for one, welcome our new, towel-folding overlords.
posted by kcds at 12:43 PM on April 7, 2010


Did it fold them seam to seam? I bet not.
posted by Solomon at 12:59 PM on April 7, 2010


I think any robot that could fold fitted bed sheets properly could probably ace the Turing test.
(I still can't do that, even with a helper.)
posted by bashos_frog at 1:09 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe it can be explained away by the 50x speedup, but it looks suspiciously like stop-motion to me. The green backdrop cloth on the right side of the screen flutters for no apparent reason, though I guess there could be some fan or pneumatic explanation. But I really suspect that Ray Harryhausen would be proud of whoever produced this.
posted by crunchland at 1:54 PM on April 7, 2010


How deep. It's not the robot that folds the towels, but the camera that captures it folding towels. Frame by frame. At the hands of the master puppeteer.

Or maybe it's Zeno's paradox of the arrow. I mean really, how do those towels ever get folded?
posted by iamkimiam at 2:01 PM on April 7, 2010


Also, next installment: what's a towel?
posted by iamkimiam at 2:01 PM on April 7, 2010


Did it ask the towels if they wanted to be folded?
posted by drhydro at 3:23 PM on April 7, 2010


THERE ARE TOWEL-FOLDING ROBOTS ON THE LOOSE.

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR TOWEL IS?

posted by Pronoiac at 4:57 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think you'd have to replace "folding" with "murdering" to get the same effect.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 5:22 PM on April 7, 2010


The wild towels do not intend to fold themselves; for the robot has no mind to receive their request. - Meta Proverb
posted by iamkimiam at 5:54 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So it took about an hour and a half to fold 5 towels.

MY GOD I'M OBSOLETE!

No I'm serious, it really did best me.
posted by mazola at 6:37 PM on April 7, 2010


Keep in mind the video is sped way up. That's what the 50x means in the title.

Needs more Yakety Sax.
posted by flabdablet at 10:27 PM on April 7, 2010


Hmm...so, 20 minutes per fold is 0.83 millifolds per second. If we start at that speed in 2010, and apply Moore's Law, we should be seeing speeds of 1 kilofold by 2040!
posted by molybdenum at 10:54 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


You people actually fold your own towels? Goodness! I haven't even seen a folded towel, outside a store or hotel, since I had to leave my housekeeper behind in South Africa! Sounds like someone has too much time on their hands.
posted by Goofyy at 3:02 AM on April 8, 2010


Hmm...so, 20 minutes per fold is 0.83 millifolds per second. If we start at that speed in 2010, and apply Moore's Law, we should be seeing speeds of 1 kilofold by 2040!

...at which point the towels catch fire. Because the robots are all sharing their improvements and upgrades via teh intarweb, this happens in every human household simultaneously. Emergency infrastructure is overwhelmed, cities burn, and civilization collapses.

This is how it happens, folks. It's the towels.
posted by madmethods at 11:41 AM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


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