Don’t be fooled by the towel-folding robot video

Robots in motion are a mesmerising sight, even if they are doing a chore that would be very boring if carried out by a human. So it’s not surprising that one of the week’s most viewed videos on YouTube shows a Californian robot picking up towels from a pile of laundry and neatly folding them.

Views shouldn’t be fooled, though, into thinking that robotic deliverance from domestic chores is at hand.

For a start, the robot (made by a company called Willow Garage and programmed at the University of California, Berkeley) is very slow. The YouTube video is speeded up 50-fold, so what the machine appears to be doing in 30 seconds actually took 25 minutes.

Not only is the robotic housemaid maddeningly slow, it is also far from versatile. Can it iron? Sort very similar black socks into pairs from a pile of laundry? Stuff a duvet into its cover? No.

If you want the full academic paper, it’s here, with the splendid title: “Cloth Grasp Point Detection based on Multiple-View Geometric Cues with Application to Robotic Towel Folding”.

Robot researchers are always optimistic, and Berkeley team have been talking about producing useful household robots within five years. Don’t believe it.

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