Watch out humans: IKEA-building robots could make you obsolete


With the advancement of robots, the need for manual labor is becoming more and more obsolete. Although many people might object, these advancements in technology help many people in their day-to-day lives.

In an article from Scientific American titled “IKEA-Building Robot Conquers Touchy-Feely Challenge,” robots are described as being capable of building Ikea-produced STEFAN chairs, according to engineers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In a recent issue of Science Robotics, these engineers described their work of creating a STEFAN chair with the help of a two-armed robot. Due to its equipped sensors and programming, the robot was able to accomplish a task seemingly troublesome to humans in approximately 20 minutes.

Pham Quang Cuong was one of the engineers who partnered with Nanyang researchers Francisco Suárez-Ruiz and Xian Zhou. In order to program the robot, they used computer code. Cuong talked about the extent to which they developed the robot’s artificial intelligence: “In this work we were interested in achieving the low-level capabilities such as perception, planning and control, rather than in the high-level reasoning.” He also plans to enhance its artificial intelligence in order to improve its reasoning skills.

In a video on Scientific American’s website, the robot’s arms were moving at a snail’s pace but they were able to “fit pegs into holes,” which would normally be a difficult task for robots according to Ross Knepper, an assistant computer science professor at Cornell University.

Knepper, along with other researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed the IkeaBot system in which robots were able to build LACK side tables. In contrast to Quang Cuong’s Nanyang robot, the MIT IkeaBot involves two robots. Knepper goes on to further contrast his work to Cuong’s, stating “the Nanyang researchers are doing it through tactile feedback, feeling whether or not the peg went into the hole.”

In an article from the Smithsonian titled “How Robots Could Help the Elderly Age in Their Homes,” robots, although useful, have their limitations when dealing with seniors. Family members cannot afford to hire personal caregivers, so they provide their relatives with automated products such as escalators.

Cynthia Matuszek, the author of the Smithsonian article, believes “artificial intelligence has the potential not only to care for our elders but to do so in a way that increases their independence and reduces their social isolation.”

Older people are necessitous and require supplements to maintain their health. They need help with dressing and eating, referred to as “activities of daily living,” by Matuszek. In addition to these activities, robots are able to maintain the condition of lawns and kitchens. Researches and other scientists are developing robots that will do these activities and more.

The most advantageous thing about robots is that they are available around the clock. While the robots carry out daily activities, seniors can spend more time with family and friends, socialize and form new relationships.

Robots can act not only as caregivers, but also as companions. Matuszek’s research includes the interaction between robots and people through talking. She references research by the Pew Research Center which shows that technology is being embraced to a greater extent by everyone, including the elderly.

The Singapore-based researchers are ambitious in their future endeavors with robots, as they hope they will be able to program the robots to design other types of furniture as well. Knepper stated, “Many people, especially many Americans, have this intimate experience with struggling and maybe failing to build IKEA furniture.” He aspires to build a robot that can assemble all Ikea furniture, but he knows that he has a long way to go.

In the long run, robots will not only be able to help carry out daily activities, but will be able to connect on a personal level with their owners. The creation of the Ikea robot serves as an inspiration to other developers who now realize that the sky is the limit for robots’ abilities.