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MIT Technology Review

Robots are about as good as you at assembling IKEA furniture

If these robots had voices, you can bet you’d hear an endless string of profanity and expressions of consternation.

The news: In a paper published in Science Robotics Wednesday, researchers reported they had created a robot that could assemble an IKEA chair in 20 minutes and 19 seconds. Only half the time was spent assembling the f***ing thing—the robot spent the first half figuring out what the hell it was looking at the best method for going about it.

How it works: The task was completed using two robot arms equipped with grippers, force sensors, and a 3-D camera. Scientists had to program the movements in advance for this test, but they say that with advances in AI, it will be able to be take on other IKEA kits on its own.

The human competition: Staffers at Science who wrote about the paper attempted the assembly task, but their dexterous human hands and supposedly superior reasoning skills only added up to a 50-second advantage over the bot. IKEA claims humans should be able to put the chair kit together in 10 to 15 minutes. 

Why it matters: Many jobs are currently “robot-proof” because they require human-level dexterity. But robots’ skills are clearly advancing, and additional warehouse and manufacturing jobs could be at risk. Here’s hoping that if they do take our jobs, at least the automatons will do us the courtesy of putting together our furniture.

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