AI Fails

AUI: Artificial Un-Intelligence #12

Andrew Hull

Make no mistake – we are totally on board with automating the more mundane tasks on your to-do list, whether they are at work or at home. But when it comes to folding laundry, technology is not close to taking that out of your hands. 

That isn’t stopping researchers from trying to speed up the process, though. NPR reported this week that a team of researchers at UC Berkeley will soon be presenting a paper on a robotics method called SpeedFolding which they say folds laundry at record speed. 

They even have video to prove it. But unfortunately for those looking to delegate laundry off of their list of chores, it isn’t yet practical. 

Why is it so hard to fold laundry?

It turns out, teaching a robot to fold laundry could be a robotics field of its own. One researcher, Professor Pieter Abbeel at UC Berkeley, devoted seven years to teach a robot to successfully fold a towel. 

Even then, it took the robot 20 minutes to do so, though the professor was able to cut that time to a minute and a half. Why is it so complex to fold laundry? 

Professor Abbeel explained that it’s extremely difficult for a robot to analyze disparate piles of laundry. He and his team had to train the technology to be able to analyze the items in the pile as 3D shapes, find where the corners are, and determine how best to fold each of them individually. 

Put simply, robots struggle in environments where they have to make unique decisions. We touched on how Google is solving this problem in a previous blog

So how does SpeedFolding solve the problem? 

Previous iterations of laundry folding bots generally had one arm. The latest robot from the team at UC Berkeley has two. 

Robots of the past also relied on complex algorithms to help it decipher the unique ways in which laundry might be situated. Now, the SpeedFolding bot uses a camera to scan the garment, then it calculates the optimal movement to lay it smoothly on the surface in front of it. 

Analysis is repeated to continuously and correctly fold the garment through each step in the process. This video shows the process from start to finish: 

The result: the SpeedFolding method can successfully fold 30 to 40 disorganized pieces of laundry in an hour. That’s nearly 10 times better than previous robots, with SpeedFolding achieving an overall success rate of 93%. 

Why the future isn’t exactly nigh 

Well, there are two reasons. 

  1. Most humans can still fold more than 30 to 40 garments an hour. 
  2. A similar robot retails for a pricey $58,000. 

Robots are great at some things, while humans are better at others. When it comes to business processes, Invisible combines both people and tech to do them better, faster, and cheaper. 

Could your team use a strategic partner? Get in touch.

Schedule a call to learn more about how Invisible might help your business grow while navigating uncertainty.

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