Laundry is one of those tasks that ties you to the house for hours. You can’t fire up the washer and walk away, like you can with a dishwasher. Not only do you have to transfer the clothes to the dryer, they have to be folded or hung up if you don’t want wrinkles. We’ve been waiting for the Roomba of laundry our whole adult lives.
The dream is one step closer to reality, thanks to researchers at UC Berkeley’s Computer Science Division. Using Willow Garage’s $280,000 Personal Robot 2, Siddharth Srivastava and his co-authors have written a paper about their version of the open-source PR2, which they’ve programmed to fold laundry.
One of the biggest challenges with programming a robot to work with laundry is that clothing and towels are “deformable objects.” Unlike a bolt or bottle, a shirt’s shape looks different based on whether it’s scrunched up on the floor or hanging in a closet. “The challenges posed by robotic towel-folding reflect important challenges inherent in robotic perception and manipulation for deformable objects,” Assistant Professor Pieter Abbeel tells UC Berkley News Center.
Unfortunately, the PR2 can’t quite differentiate between a clean, rumpled shirt lying on the floor and a dirty, rumpled shirt lying on the floor. Besides, the robot isn’t flexible enough to reach the floor. Because of its limited range and vision, PR2 can’t reach into the machine to take the clothes out. But enough about what the robot can’t do. As you can see in the video, the robot has no problem putting clothes into a basket and transferring them to the washer. Once everything’s out of the dryer, the bot can fold and hang the laundered items.
With that hefty price tag and PR2’s limitations, it’s not like we expect Santa to deliver a domesticated robot this year. Is Christmas 2020 too soon to hope for?