When I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young student in England circa the late 1970s, I used to read a magazine called New Scientist . I learned some really interesting “stuff” reading this magazine; in fact, some of those articles have stuck with me to this day (that's about 40 years as I pen these words, which is pretty impressive).
Well, I'm delighted to report that the magazine is still going strong with both print and online versions. In fact, my chum Jay Dowling just pointed me at a rather interesting video of a full-sized humanoid robot called TEO doing some ironing.
On the one hand, this is really impressive. Manipulating clothes is particularly difficult for robots because the material deforms as you work with it.
TEO uses machine vision to create a 3D representation of the surface of the garment its working with. It then uses this topographic map to work out where the creases are, it calculates the optimum trajectory for the iron to smooth out the creases, and it keeps on repeating the cycle until the garment is free of creases.
On the other hand… TEO can only currently work with the simplest of garments (no buttons, zippers, or decorative elements), and a human companion has to place the garment on the ironing board. Also, it has to be said that TEO is painfully slow. Watching it iron is a bit like watching paint dry; it's only made exciting by the fact that you are watching a humanoid robot ironing.
The important thing to remember is that this is just a tempting teasing taste of what's to come. In my lifetime, I expect to see “sons of TEO” able to take laundry through the washing and drying machines, untangle and sort the various items, iron them, and hang them up in the closet. I'm sure these robots will also be capable of performing other tasks, such as dusting, hovering, and loading and unloading the dishwasher — everything, in fact, that we've failed to teach our 22-year-old son to do.
You never know; I might actually get to wear an ironed shirt once more before I shrug off this mortal coil and head out for the next plane of existence.
How about you? If such a general-purpose robot were to be affordable and available — something capable of changing and laundering the bedsheets — would you be tempted to splash out the cash for one of the little rascals?