This robot worked out how to assemble an IKEA 'Stefan' chair in 20 minutes

Picture: Nanyang Technological University

A robot’s “limits” were explored by getting it to autonomously assemble an IKEA chair – and it succeeded, in good time.

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, showed how their robot assembled IKEA’s Stefan chair in 8 minutes and 55 seconds.

The NTU robot was developed to show the best use of dextrous manipulation, “an area of robotics that requires precise control of forces and motions with fingers or specialised robotic hands”.

The robot sees through a 3D camera and its arms are capable of six-axis motion.

Each arm is equipped with parallel grippers to pick up objects. Mounted on the wrists are force sensors that determine how strongly the “fingers” are gripping and how powerfully they push objects into contact with each other.

The parts were laid out on the floor to mimic how regular people would start their IKEA construction.

After taking 11 minutes and 21 seconds to independently plan the motion pathways and 3 seconds to locate the parts, the robot then takes 3D photos of the parts and gets to work:

Remember, none of that was pre-programmed. (The video was sped up 8x.)

The robot planned its moves on the run, juggling perception, grasping and execution after determining the best motion pathway.

One of the team’s biggest challenges was being able to control how much force the robot used when gripping and inserting pieces, technology they first flagged back in December 2015.

Sliding the plugs along the work surfaces allowed force sensors mounted on the robot’s wrists to tell it when to push them into place, and how far.

All up, less than 20 minutes, which is probably faster than you could do it.

Assistant Professor Pham Quang Cuong said to date, humans were well in advance of robots when it came to dextrous manipulation, due to the many skills involved.

“This includes being able to map the exact locations of the items, plan a collision-free motion path, and control the amount of force required,” Pham said.

“The way we have built our robot, from the parallel grippers to the force sensors on the wrists, all work towards manipulating objects in a way humans would.”

With the chair built, the team’s next task was to apply the robot’s skills to other industries, such as glass bonding for automotives, and drilling holes in metal components for the aircraft manufacturing.

Perhaps most impressive fact is that all the components to make the robot can be bought off the shelf.

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