Robots are Finally Learning How to Iron our Clothes

Friday, 19 February 2016 - 5:03PM
Friday, 19 February 2016 - 5:03PM
In Star Wars, protocol droids are used for a mind-boggling number of tasks from translation to diplomacy and beyond. In real life, we're a long way off from relying on robots for matters as important as international (or interplanetary) relations, but we may soon start to reap the benefits of having automatons in the home.

Robots helping us out with menial tasks around the home aren't necessarily a new phenomenon. Automated vacuuming machines such as iRobot's Roomba aren't just Cat War Machines, they're also remarkably effective at carrying out a particularly bothersome chore on behalf of their owners. Now, a team of engineers from Columbia University believe they've created a machine that can take care of another boring task....Ironing.

After three years of work, the team believe they have negotiated one of the big obstacles to creating a truly automated ironing machine. In their paper, which is due to be presented at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation later this year, the team state that they've developed a system that allows their machine to identify imperfections in a fabric, and eliminate them like some kind of hellish Terminator on a quest to eliminate creases.

Opening quote
Robotic ironing is a very challenging task. A full solution to the problem requires complex surface analysis, regrasping, and hybrid force/position control of the iron. In this paper, we have addressed the surface analysis problem and also used a position controlled robotic arm to implement ironing.
Closing quote

Using two sensors constructed from the bones of an Xbox Kinect system, the machine is able to identify creases by detecting variations in the height of the fabric. Similar to how submarine might map an ocean floor, the robot ironing machine scans the surface with the modified Kinect sensors before sending its Iron-wielding arm to smooth the imperfections away.

While the team believe the scanning system is almost complete, they have stated a desire to improve on the amount of pressure the robotic arm is able to place on the surface. By increasing the amount of pressure the robot is capable of, you'll also be able to increase the amount of stubborn creases it can eliminate. Before long, this particular bot will, we expect, be combined with a laundry folding robot like the one below, turning laundry day into a day of freedom for humans.


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