back to article You wanted flying cars and colony worlds. Instead, IKEA furniture-building-ish AI robots

For many of us, assembling IKEA furniture is proof that while Scandinavians are no longer vikings, they can still ruin your day. But, curse no longer at your Kullaberg or Västanby or whatever the fsck it's called now: a bunch of smart folks in America have developed robots that use machine-learning algorithms to construct IKEA …

  1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Terminator

    Not sure I am comfortable with AI doing this....

    Lord knows what kind of twisted, diabolical, sanity-draining tortures a machine-learning AI might devise as a side effect of enduring the assembly of an IKEA bookshelf or coffee table. I fear for humanity's post-robolution future.

    1. macjules Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Not sure I am comfortable with AI doing this....

      Hey, just be thankful that they are not using Über's AI.

    2. spold Silver badge

      Re: Not sure I am comfortable with AI doing this....

      Trained by a Mr. Escher I believe - he was rather good at chairs

      https://www.reddit.com/r/manufacturing/comments/cprgx1/so_any_help_on_making_this/

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Not sure I am comfortable with AI doing this....

      what kind of twisted, diabolical, sanity-draining tortures a machine-learning AI

      I have no mouth and yet I must scream.

    4. zuckzuckgo

      Re: Not sure I am comfortable with AI doing this....

      Maybe they can use this research to train some AIs to read IKEA's language-neutral instructions and translate them to English or at least human.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    Furniture assembly is a complex task

    Clearly there are no keen DIYers in this group of boffins.

    The most amazing thing about IdonKEA is that they can sell MFI quality flatpack furniture made from mostly unrecyclable materials and to people who think it is cool stuff because it has a little Scandi design in the process.

    I class it along with most flatpack furniture as 'Designed to fail furniture', they should cut out the middle man, on receipt of payment there should be a free delivery service to the nearest landfill.

    1. joeW Silver badge

      Re: Furniture assembly is a complex task

      To the landfill, alongside the failing keyboards.

      Edit - it was funnier before he went back and added in all the missing letters, I swear.

    2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Furniture assembly is a complex task

      I must admit the furniture I have purchased from Ikea before didn't appear to be designed to fail.

      Even a wardrobe I put up where I was putting up with the help of a friend, managed to place a tool out of reach, reached it hearing a cracking snapping wodden sound followed by swear words from my friend. Solid as a rock when the rest was setup.

      1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

        Re: Furniture assembly is a complex task

        I just a couple of weeks ago assembled my first Ikea furniture. An epic four-segment wardrobe, 275cm (9 foot) width, with lots of interior parts. 33 packages in the delivery.

        It was truly a pleasure to find myself working with flat-pack furniture that was genuinely well-made. No having to force things because the alignment is a millimetre out, as I've been accustomed to with flat-pack in the past. Just stuff that fits where it's supposed to.

        And it works. Not to mention looking much better than any wardrobe I've had (and I'm not generally a fan of any 'modern' looks).

    3. batfink Silver badge

      Re: Furniture assembly is a complex task

      Their stuff sells well because it's very reasonable quality for the price and convenience. Once up it's pretty stable, all things considered. Where's the alternative?

      It's nothing to do with people wanting "scandi design".

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll be impressed when they develop AI that can get me through the store without getting lost. It's a little known fact that Ikea is actually made up of two words, "Ika" which translates to Sunday and "Keya" which means "Fucking ruined".

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Most stores have a few sneaky shortcuts - keep an eye on staff movements and they will be revealed

      .. Or ask, some staff will tell you fastest route to desired area (helps to elicit positive response if you look at breaking point and likely to either burst into tears or go postal)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I've seen the shortcuts, they mostly help me get to the cafe for the meatballs.

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Every IKEA store is laid out in exactly the same format, Showrooms for each room in the house, then the restaurant, then the marketplace (small items, eg glasses, cutlery etc), then you go either down or up to the warehouse, then the tills.

          If you want to skip the show rooms, go to the restaurant and then through the marketplace.

          If you know what you want, have the box codes from online and don't want any marketplace things, walk in the exit, past the tills and straight in to the warehouse section.

          The arrows for the showroom sections are because its slow enough without people walking contraflow with a shopping trolley from the marketplace.

          1. IGotOut

            Every IKEA store is laid out in exactly the same format, Showrooms for each room in the house, then the restaurant, then the marketplace (small items, eg glasses, cutlery etc), then you go either down or up to the warehouse, then the tills.

            Sorry, that's wrong. For starters Wendesbury one has the Restaurant joint first on your right or the showrooms to the left or slightly right to kids section. Then downstairs to marketplace, warehouse and tills.

            Been a while but pretty sure Coventry is different to how you describe as well.

      2. Warm Braw Silver badge

        The shortcuts are even signposted in our local IKEA.

        I also recommend walking in the opposite direction to the arrows on the floor. If you haven't penetrated too far into the Stygian wilderness, you may escape more quickly. And even if you don't it's worth it to see the faces of the grazing consumer herd startled by your transgressive anarchy.

      3. LDS Silver badge

        Yes, I just hate in airports you can't take the same shortcuts without being arrested...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I took a shortcut in IKEA once. I ended up in a secret Wolfenstein area of the store with a cyberdemon in it.

    2. Wade Burchette Silver badge

      True story: I had to meet my parents an Ikea once, so I decided to wait for them at the food court on the upper level. It took me 10 minutes to figure out how to get to the exit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        True story:

        The furniture is fine. It is the stores that are diabolical.

        Kid needed/wanted a couple more things for their apartment so had me go with to the IKEA store in Burbank, CA. Walked about half way through the store and I started to wonder what the projected arrows meant on the floor. The arrows pointing the opposite direction to what we were going. It was my first time in an IKEA. So how was I supposed to know that IKEA'ns were control freaks that told you the "right" way to go through the store.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: True story:

          Ok, boomer.

    3. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

      They already have technology for that. It's called a website. It even comes supplied with some nice design tools to check that what you're buying will all fit together and do the job.

  4. 0laf Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Hmmm

    I've never found Ikea furniture all that hard to build. It's usually pretty sturdy as well, I've some stuff that has lasted well over 10yr. For an IT angle look up the Lack Rack.

    If you want a real challenge try Made.com. Parts with the wrong labels applied and instructions which include a requirement to do the physically impossible (at least in this universe) i.e. move the part in two directions 90deg to perpendicular to each other at the same time.

    1. IT's getting kinda boring
      Joke

      Re: Hmmm

      Sounds like the Kamasutra. You sure you have the right instructions...?

      1. 0laf Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Hmmm

        All the words were there just not necessarily in the right order

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm

      Depends on how much you are used to build things - some people find it far easier than others. Software developers, for example, are usually trained to read undecipherable requirements and devise a plan to build something useful. Knowing how some pieces are expected to work usually helps.

      Then at Ikea you can find cheap things built with cheap materials to cost as little as possible, and better items but more expensive. Not the place where you're going to find high-end furniture anyway, but nobody is forced to buy at Ikea.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Ikea assembly

        It's a bit like Meccano for grown ups who stopped playing with real Meccano

    3. John Mangan

      Re: Hmmm

      @0laf

      Agreed. I've always thought the critical step was checking that you had all the parts and laying them out in a rational manner. As long as you have enough room to work in after that it really is straight-forward - and I've got stuff that is well into it's third decade.

      I did have some flat-pack furniture from a different supplier one time where the bolts and holes just didn't line up. It was clearly a manufacturing error. I got it replaced and the new one had the same problem so refund time. I've yet to experience that with Ikea.

    4. phuzz Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Hmmm

      I quite enjoy putting up Ikea stuff, I'll even volunteer to help friends.

      Over the years I think I've had a couple of occasions where a part has been missing, but generally the instructions are as straight forward as Lego (ie, very simple), and with a moment's thought they go together without much fuss.

      I've got a book case and a cupboard which have lasted for getting on twenty years, and at least half a dozen house moves.

      1. D@v3

        Re: Ikea hate

        I've never understood it.

        I've got some items that during house moves have been disassembled, and re-built on the other end as much easier than trying to move in 1 piece. No problem, still sturdy as the day they were first slotted together.

        The stores I've been to have all been (more or less) the same layout, with shortcuts sign posted, and the construction instructions are (almost) idiot proof (never underestimate a well trained idiot).

    5. jmch Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Hmmm

      My experience with Ikea furniture is almost universally positive - easy to put up, fairly robust and long-lasting, any damage suffered through a couple of moves was more due to movers' inattention than bad build quality. Some stuff tendsd to scratch too easily... but then you get what you pay for.

      My experience with visiting Ikea, on the other hand, involves either running after kids to drag them off every item they want to climb on / jump off / play around with, or following SWMBO as she examines everything that takes her fancy (ie half the items in the place) even though we just went in to get a lamp. Or both.

      Visiting Ikea on my own, I have found to be quite relaxing

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "it is well suited as a benchmark for control algorithms aiming to solve complex tasks"

    That I agree with. I can't count the times I have had to entirely take apart an Ikea thingy because, at some point, I realized that some specific piece had to be put in before, or in the other way, in order to complete the build.

    If they can make a robot that understands perfectly how to follow the instructions, they will have made definite progress.

    Now I have one question : do they intend to sell that robot to every household ? Are we supposed to live with an Ikea-building robot integrated into our living quarters in the future ?

    Because I'd rather complain about having not correctly understood the instructions, thank you.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: "it is well suited as a benchmark for control algorithms aiming to solve complex tasks"

      Given that people rarely need a furniture-assembling robot to be available to them immediately and every day, I would expect a rental model, like for trailers or panel vans, to be better suited.

      So you follow the instruktiön sheet, then, when you get stukk you call the helpline as indikäted; the phöne menu will offer the option for getting one of the åssämbly röböts out to you. For the moment this will involve a delivery service or you picking one up at the store, but with sufficient training and some further development they will be able to drive themselves.

      1. D@v3

        @stoneshop

        If you collect one of the robots from the store, will you have to assemble it when you get home? If so, do you think there will be a robot available to help?

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: @stoneshop

          It's röböts all the way down back to the store.

  6. Red Ted
    FAIL

    Labelling the connectors

    "Crucially, the boffins took the IKEA manuals for each of these pieces of furniture, modelled each part in Unity, and labelled all the connectors."

    That is the nub of the problem. Building the first item is the tricky bit as you're not quite sure what all the hieroglyphics mean[*], but then the second and third one goes together much quicker as you have all the spacial relationships in your head. It appears that this system currently short circuits that. I'd be much more impressed if they just modelled the parts in unity, without labels and then got the AI to work it out from scans of the instruction sheets.

    [*] The last few items of Ikea stuff I've built have a longer H&S sheet than the instruction one, as H&S sheet is the same few paragraphs translated in to many different languages, which is why I presume they don't put any text on the instruction sheets.

    1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

      Re: Labelling the connectors

      Yep, the first part definitely takes the longest. You gradually[1] get into the Ikea mindset and understand WTF they're on about. It's kind-of learning a language in miniature.

      [1] or perhaps instantly if you're a bright twelve-year-old with intellect unclouded by age.

  7. imanidiot Silver badge

    What's the problem?

    Am I really the only one that has basically zero problem with assembling Ikea furniture? It's really, really bleeping simple. First step however if you have a less technically inclined girlfriend/wife/helper is to make the agreement that you know what you are doing and she just leave the room and let you at it. Any other solution will invariably bring on a fight as they put things in backwards, lose screws and generally just slow you down.

  8. batfink Silver badge

    I didn't note any reference in the article to the system being programming to use the Big Fucking Hammer...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Funny thing is that it's near impossible to find an empty desk / seat in one of the IKEA head offices. Its a big hippie commune so open-plan and lots of arm chairs, bean bags and other silly seats, but never enough plain old desks. As for getting a seat / bench in the restaurant, no chance.

    But "don't mention the vikings! I did once, but I think I got away with it!". And for fxxk sake don't tell them their names are crap (some after Swedish things or boys/girls names - or just pure random things!).

  10. steviebuk Silver badge

    I don't understand

    IKEA guides are as good as Lego. Quite easy to follow.

  11. SVV Silver badge

    IKEA should start selling the robots

    What an easy sales pitch : "Take away the pain of assembling all the boring bland flatpack furniture you buy from us with your very own IKEAbot!"

    So you get your new buildbot home, excitedly open the box and discover that it contains 6500 seperate components and an A4 sheet of paper with a diagram "explaining" how to put it together.

    1. Giles C

      Re: IKEA should start selling the robots

      https://www.scribd.com/doc/114272440/Insert-Knob-A-in-Hole-B-by-Isaac-Asimov

      Read it and you will find the ultimate ikea robot - it is only about 350 words

  12. veti Silver badge

    To be fair

    Assembling furniture is a much more useful task than either forming space colonies or flying a car.

    (Space colonies would have no measurable impact on the lives of anyone reading this. Flying cars would, but it would be almost universally negative.)

  13. Citizens untied
    Joke

    Dirk Gently's sofa

    I feel like there may some interesting quantum state cascades resulting from analyzing Ikea furniture assembly, where observed successes result on observable failures. This algorithm should be ported to Cirq to challenge quantum claimed supremacy.

  14. J. Cook Silver badge

    The last thing I put together from IKEA was a set of wall-mount kitchen-type cabinets; while they were a touch more than the local big box store, it was made up by the wall mount system, which was a steel rail that the cabinets attach to. I took my time in getting the rail firmly attached to the wall and level; once that was done, I assembled the cabinets and hung them up over a lazy afternoon.

    The hardest part was making sure I had the measurements right before taking an angle grinder to one of the wall mounts to trim it to the right size. :)

  15. Anguilla

    Me - a HK$50,000 SCMP Ikea Winner.

    Many years ago - when I wore a younger man's clothes - I entered a South China Morning Post competition (can't recall what it required me to do).

    I "won" a coupon worth Hong Kong $50,000 to be used on Ikea products.

    Well, that sort of "win" could have required SWMBO & I to purchase another flat to use up all our winnings [and some more].

    We took some items and then circulated around that anyone wanting some discounted IKEA stuff and were willing to collect the IKEA delivery from our home [Ikea demanded that all the HK$50,000 stuff was delivered to one address in a maximum of three deliveries].

    That was more years ago than I can now remember. We had enough "buyers" to get rid of everything that we couldn't use and gathered in some loot for it.

    Of all the items we got "for free" - only a solitary table lamp remains beside one of our TV's.

    (No iniquitous TV license charge in HK !)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI and IKEA

    Why do I get the thought that AI building IKEA furniture will end up being something like this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrsZ9oqgtPY

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