back to article Machines learned to assemble IKEA’s semi-disposable furniture

Singaporean scientists have asked the question: “Can robots assemble an IKEA chair?” and come back with enough of a “Yes” that The Register feels it time to call for robots to take this job away from humans. Pleeeease, robots. Take this job away from us! The boffins behind this breakthrough, assistant professor Pham Quang …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That's all well and good but can they really assemble furniture like humans? Do they try without the instructions thinking they know best? Do they make a mistake and realise near the end that they have to go back and start again? Do they get half way through and think sack that and pop off to the pub? That's what I would call true AI.

    1. A K Stiles
      Joke

      Instructions

      And here I was hoping that the system was starting from scratch and using the instruction sheet to determine the correct assembly procedure - in my experience the most time is taken trying to understand the hieroglyphics in an IKEA instruction manual (well second only to the time it took to get around the IKEA store to find said item and then pay for it and leave again)

      1. SVV Silver badge

        Re: Instructions

        Well, obviously it can't be an AI that can read and understand Ikea instruction diagramlets, as that would be so intelligent it would also have spontaneously solved all possible remaining mathematics and physics problems on the way too. And just by putting bits togeter that fit each other, it would have assembled many things, but none of them would be a chair. Therefore, I suspect it's nothing more than part recognition, and then assembly using a laboriously pre-written program.

        Still, it's an amazing advance - I mean, they'll be telling us that robots will be able to make cars next!

      2. AndrueC Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Instructions

        ..not to mention trying to identify the pieces. Eventually deciding that a dot on one corner of a rectangle is just a blob of ink left over from the printing process. Of course you get to the end and realise that no, actually, one of the wooden pieces has a small screw starting hole in one corner. And, yes, there is a difference between the top of the cupboard and the bottom.

      3. nevarre

        Re: Instructions

        Particularly when the stupid number decals have fallen off of half the pieces. The individuals that create assembly instructions for IKEA are disinformation experts.

    2. JakeMS

      We don't pull it apart and start over, real men force the missing part in place (I do anyway), if it goes in with force great, all that matters is that I got it in.

      If it snaps, oh well that part is just spare anyway.

      1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        You're still talking about building furniture, right?

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        @JakeMS

        We don't pull it apart and start over, real men force the missing part in place (I do anyway), if it goes in with force great, all that matters is that I got it in.

        Also, real men unpack it, grab the instructions and toss them in the bin by saying "I don't need no stinking instructions." Later (maybe an hour or day) we dig them out of the trash. But hey, we have beer and get to play with tools and stuff.

  2. andyp-random-number

    Not the real world

    Having two robots assemble a chair in my house doesn't take into account the problem that there isn't enough space to swing a cat. What is needed with furniture assembly is the ability to limbo under and around things....and to find that screw that you dropped in shaggy carpet....only a small child can do this.

    Design a robot that can do the things we can't, like predict the most important part will get lost and have a pocket with one of those in. Locating the allen key that you last used 3 years ago is also a key skill...only a wife can do this job.

    ...and who will stand back and admire the almost complete job and tell the robot "you've done really well". No one will invent a robot just to stand there and give compliments, it isn't cost efficient but is really necessary.

    1. Noonoot

      Re: Not the real world

      I didn't realise that all men were good at losing allen keys and then resort to asking their wife where said allen key is.

      Don't all men have tool boxes!!!!!!?????????!!!

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Not the real world

        Real men have tool boxes!

        Some even keep tools in them.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not the real world

        Real men have drill drivers with the correct hex fittings and now how to use the torque settings.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not the real world

          Real men have drill drivers with the correct hex fittings and now how to use the torque settings.

          And real men can't spell, either.

          1. IsJustabloke Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Not the real world

            "And real men can't spell, either."

            And real men (tm) don't care!

            1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
              Trollface

              Re: Not the real world

              Real men™ can't spell eether.

              1. Peter2 Silver badge

                Re: Not the real world

                Real men™ don't need to prove it.

                Especially not by being told (by some salesdroids in marketing) that you have to have their overpriced and underperforming products in order to qualify as a Real man™.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Not the real world

                  @ Pete2: See the post with the words "I accept the challenge BILLY boy" further down the thread. Seems you don't need any power tools at all.....

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not the real world

          Real men have drill drivers with the correct hex fittings

          I think there's only certain tools that qualify for "real man" status*. For starters the qualifying tool needs to come from a decent make - Makita, DeWalt, Metabo, Festool, Hitachi or similar. Then it needs to be a proper meaty device, such as a meaty 18V drill driver with a monster battery, any variant of circular saw, SDS drill, angle grinder, or anything powered by compressed air. For Ultimate Real Man status, only a gas powered cordless framing nail gun will do.

          * In these enlightened times, I note that Real Man status will also be available to other genders & species.

          1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

            Re: @Ledswinger

            I think there's only certain tools that qualify for "real man" status

            Yes, and that type of tool is made by Abingdon King Dick

            http://www.kingdicktools.co.uk/index.asp

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Ledswinger

              Yes, and that type of tool is made by Abingdon King Dick

              Certainly only a real man would know what a "ratchet podger" is. And good to see that somebody still makes tools that say "Made in England".

        3. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Not the real world

          Wannabe real men already try this.

          Which is why IKEA instructions clearly tell you not to use power tools.

          Man + impact driver + IKEA = world of hurt (and splinters).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not the real world

            "Man + impact driver + IKEA = world of hurt (and splinters)."

            Again, learning the difference between driver mode and drill mode, REALLY helps.

        4. JulieM Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: Not the real world

          Not just men, you [k]now .....

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Joke

            Re: Not the real world

            "Re: Not the real world

            Not just men, you [k]now ....."

            Don't be silly....girls only buy overpriced and under-powered pink "tools". Just ask Block and Quayle

        5. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: Not the real world

          Real men don't need torque settings , they know the difference between tight and too tight.

          One of those crappy flat pack chairs is a 5 minute job for me or my wife, twenty minutes for that, shows a serious lack of Krypton factor.

          As for the robots, they should be 'fully' programmed to assemble the furniture and then recycle it at the dump. Flat pack furniture should be regarded as 'something to do when it's raining', it's not actually intended to be used to sit/lay on or store stuff in it and it's not even good to burn, too many environmentally unfriendly chemicals bonding the sawdust together.

          1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

            Re: Not the real world

            Upvoted just for "Krypton factor".

      3. Dr. G. Freeman

        Re: Not the real world

        Unreal men have one tool- The hammer.

        All that is needed.

      4. Hans 1 Silver badge

        Re: Not the real world

        From all the furniture I put together and a number I found, I have more allen keys than any other kind of tool, yes, even spanners ... ok, granted, I have more nails and screws than allen keys ... though so many allen keys, in fact, I am happy to give them away to get rid of some ... must have half a dozen in my tool box, PLUS a bag with another 20 or 30 ... granted, some I found in the places I moved in to ... in weird places like under the bathroom sink cupboard ... in the attic, garage etc ...

        I never read the instructions, I just visualize what I need to build, look at the parts, and get the job done.

    2. Oengus Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Not the real world

      and to find that screw that you dropped in shaggy carpet....only a small child or a bare foot in the middle of the night... can do this.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not the real world

      "and to find that screw that you dropped in shaggy carpet....only a small child can do this."

      BAH! Anyone can easily find it with a small magnet. Drag it through the carpet and CLICK! Oh, there it is!

      Assembly robots will only increase the utter helplessness of the modern man and woman. That's not a good thing. O Ye confused by IKEA, cry not for sympathy for thine absent skills! Get thee back and play with thine Legos until thou learnest how to follow directions.

      Lack of "Guy skills" can hurt you. A guy blew a first date with a smokin' hot friend of mine - she had to call ME for tire-changing directions in the RAIN. I never met a woman who thought helpless was sexy.

  3. M man

    Not bad

    [I] Success[FULLY BUILT MY FIRST PIECE AT ABOUT ]the fourth attempt, a failure rate that [KEPT IKEA IN] business. Problems on early attempts included [ME] breaking some parts.

  4. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Terminator

    Listen, and understand!

    That robot is out there! It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel frustration, or exasperation, or anger. And it absolutely will not stop... ever, until it has assembled your Stefan chair.

    1. horse of a different color
      Terminator

      Re: Listen, and understand!

      Just you wait until it figures out how to send back chairs from the future.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to say....

    ..never had an issue with IKEA furniture.

    Now bloody Hygenia stuff..

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: I have to say....

      IKEA furniture is easy enough to assemble correctly, after all it is designed that way. The benighted contraption that my sister bought from Next and asked me to sort out after she took one look and ran away gibbering was another matter. That thing still haunts my nightmares.

    2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: I have to say....

      Yeah it tends to be the Ikea-wannabe's that I've had issues with.

      But that's often not so much the assembly procedure as general product quality. Turning up with missing hinges, or the holes drilled in the wrong place (despite the marks in the correct place still being visible).

      IKEA stuff I've never had any issue with

  6. Arachnoid

    Yes but

    Whos going to assemble and program the robot the destructions would be biblic in proportion !?

    BTW who hasnt wanted a third arm when assembling stuff not just hoping it wont fall over before inserting part B,,,,,,,

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Yes but

      "Whos going to assemble and program the robot"

      Uh, other robots?

      The biggest loser in this scenario is CHINA. Unless, they're making the robots...

      Here's a thought: build your factories in countries where LOTS of robotics-savvy people are, where shipping costs direct to customers is lower, and have the bots make EVERYTHING [not quite 'lights out' but close]. Unskilled labor basically disappears, everyone who works for you is a reasonably well paid technician or engineer, "levels" of middle management are no longer required, etc. and the cost of manufacturing is pretty much the same, anywhere in the world. "Offshoring" will "die on the vine".

  7. steviebuk Silver badge

    Pleeeease, robots. Take this job away from us!

    No thanks. I like building stuff so like building the IKEA furniture myself thanks. A bit of knolling helps. And if robots take that away as well, the guy in town that runs a business installing flat pack furniture for people and small business' would be out of work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pleeeease, robots. Take this job away from us!

      A bit of knolling helps.

      Blue Peter badge for teaching me a new word!

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Pleeeease, robots. Take this job away from us!

        As they say: Knolling is half the battle.

  8. Arachnoid

    3d Printers

    IKEA only has a short term buisness plan, just wait till the ubiquitous"Star Trek" 3D printer comes to every home.

  9. imanidiot Silver badge

    Why do people have so much problems with Ikea?

    Step 1: Convince the girlfriend/wife/SWMBO* that going on a weekend is a bad idea and it's better to take an afternoon off when it's sunny out

    Step 2: Convince the girlfriend/wife/SWMBO* that you got this and she doesn't need to come along.

    Step 3: Use the website to locate all items and their locations at your Ikea location

    Step 4: Go to the store

    Step 5: STUDY THE MAP at the entrance. Locate where your items are and where the shortcuts are located, they're not all marked but they are all on the map. Plan a route

    Step 6: Pick up your items

    Step 7: Use the self checkout tills to minimize friendly chitchat and old folks trying to pay with haypennies

    Step 8: Load up the car and go home

    Step 9: Argue with the girlfriend/wife/SWMBO* over the stuff you "forgot" to add on the list and didn't bring

    Step 10: Piss off girlfriend/wife/SWMBO* enough that she won't try to help assemble the stuff

    Step 11: Assemble the stuff correctly, first time, without problem

    Step 12: Show new furniture to girlfriend/wife/SWMBO* and make up for arguing.

    *Strike through as appropriate.

    Seriously, I've had more flat pack furniture gone wrong because people try to help but just don't bloody listen when you tell them stuff than because I got it wrong. (Let's not mention the one closet where I assembled the 2 sidewalls the wrong way round)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why do people have so much problems with Ikea?

      Let's not mention the one closet where I assembled the 2 sidewalls the wrong way round

      Lucky you're not like me, and glue the joints rather than relying on the dowels and cams......

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Why do people have so much problems with Ikea?

        Actually I am like you...

  10. d3vy Silver badge

    But does it get in the car and drive back to Warrington to pick up the missing parts?

    *I'm joking I've never had a missing part in any IKEA furniture.

  11. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Two robots

    Did they also argue with each other about how to assemble the furniture?

  12. Christoph Silver badge

    Assemble the Ikea furniture - maybe.

    Decode the Ikea instructions - no chance.

  13. Korev Silver badge
    Boffin

    Idea Instructions

    In case you haven't seen the wonderful Idea Instructions. It's Ikea-style graphics describing various algorithms.

    1. JulieM Silver badge

      Re: Idea Instructions

      I understood them perfectly .....

      Does that mean there is something wrong with me?

      1. IsJustabloke Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Idea Instructions

        "I understood them perfectly .....

        Does that mean there is something wrong with me?"

        Yes, you weirdo!

  14. Patrick R

    Assembling never was the hardest part.

    Now, can they please make a robot that goes to and walks through the Ikea with my girlfriend please?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Assembling never was the hardest part.

      Now, can they please make a robot that goes to and walks through the Ikea with my girlfriend please?

      Ahh, lucky you, reads like she pays.

      Anon, obvious reasons ...

  15. MMR

    Aaw.. the stereotypes

    Pleeeease, robots. Take this job away from us!

    People who can't assemble an IKEA chair or chest of drawers are the same people who are not able to follow a simple, two page (most of which pictures) instruction sent by the Help Desk.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      Re: Aaw.. the stereotypes

      They're also extremely unlikely to be the sort of person who reads/comments on El Reg articles.

  16. ssharwood

    Real men?

    All this talk of real men reminds me that I worked at IKEA as a student and had so much assembly practice that I could assemble a BILLY bookcase in 6 minutes.

    Top that you lot. And I also defy you to come up with a better definition of true masculinity.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Real men?

      Real men don't give a shit about your definition of masculinity.

      1. DrD'eath

        Re: Real men?

        I would give you an up vote, but naturally, a real man would not give a toss about up votes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Real men?

      And I also defy you to come up with a better definition of true masculinity.

      I accept the challenge, BILLY boy!

      True masculinity: Living in a cave, unshaven, unwashed, catching your own food and eating it raw, before whiling away the evenings masturbating like a wild monkey, interacting with other humans only with a club?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Joke

        Re: Real men?

        True masculinity: Living in a cave, unshaven, unwashed, catching your own food and eating it raw, before whiling away the evenings masturbating like a wild monkey, interacting with other humans only with a club?

        Isn't that just a Geordie* on a weekend?

        * Feel free to substitute for a person from another region.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: Real men?

          " interacting with other humans only with a club?

          Isn't that just a Geordie* on a weekend?

          * Feel free to substitute for a person from another region."

          Ah yes! there are a few people I have met to whom the suggestion ' Let's go clubbing at the weekend' would be a bad idea.

      2. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: Real men?

        "True masculinity: Living in a cave, unshaven, unwashed, catching your own food and eating it raw, before whiling away the evenings masturbating like a wild monkey, interacting with other humans only with a club?"

        Im part way there!

        1. GrahamRJ

          Re: Real men?

          Wo-oah, living on a prayer?

      3. LucreLout Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Real men?

        True masculinity: Living in a cave, unshaven, unwashed, catching your own food and eating it raw, before whiling away the evenings masturbating like a wild monkey, interacting with other humans only with a club?

        UNIX admin?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Real men?

        It's been found that Women even have prostrate glands, albeit small precursor versions of them.

        1. earl grey Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Real men? w/prostrate glands

          1. to cast (oneself) face down on the ground in humility, submission, or adoration. 2. to lay flat, as on the ground.

          yeah, not so much like prostate.

    3. LucreLout Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Real men?

      Top that you lot. And I also defy you to come up with a better definition of true masculinity.

      Sitting on the couch with a beer, making helpful comments, while the Mrs puts her bookcase together?

  17. Tom Melly

    Am I the only one...

    ... who quite enjoys assembling Ikea stuff?

    1. Mike Brown

      Re: Am I the only one...

      Nope. I love it. Its basically big lego.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Building the furniture isn't the difficult part, navigating the store and not having an argument with your partner is. Surviving Ikea is a marker of a stable lasting relationship.

    I should also add the people that haven't seen each other for years who decide to have a long conversation with trolleys in the middle of the walk way, people that let their kids run wild and the people that decide it's a jolly jape to do the whole Ikea experience backwards.

    However the hot dog at the end makes up for it all.

    1. earl grey Silver badge
      Joke

      However the hot dog at the end makes up for it all.

      Yeah, used to getting the weiner in the end.

  19. ma1010 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Reminds me of a very relevant article from El Reg

    About the Ikea in the Spanish town of Arroyo de la Encomienda. The Ikea store there is located on "I've Got a Screw Loose" street. You can read it here.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I was a student we got really, really stoned before going to IKEA for "just a few things". This is a terrible idea, don't do this.

    I think we made it out after about four hours, and I still don't like going back there.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Gimp

    Oh Dog, I'm a robot

    "machines learned to assemble IKEAs semi disposable furniture"

    ....so..... if you can assemble an IKEA product and in about 20 minutes then you must be a robot too.

    I assembled an IKEA shelf product on Monday following the instructions in about 20 minutes.

    I was so proud too,crikey.

  22. Pat Harkin

    I see they went for the easy task...

    ...of building the furniture, and not the currently insoluble "Get out of IKEA" problem which has defeated all maze solving algorithms.

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