Some of you may remember the PR2, a high-tech, humanoid service robot built by Californian company Willow Garage, from one of our previous reports.
Researchers at the University of California Berkeley have now developed an algorithm that allows the robot to fold towels of different sizes, colors and materials. What may not seem to a big breakthrough for some, nevertheless marks a milestone in the robotic manipulation of non-rigid, deformable objects. The challenge in perceiving and manipulating deformable objects like towels is that, unlike rigid objects like doors or bottles, their shape is not predictable.
A video shows how the PR2 picks up a towel, and slowly turns it with one arm and then with the other while scanning it with a pair of high-resolution cameras. Once the robot finds two adjacent corners it starts folding in the air and finally completes the fold on a flat surface before adding it to a neat stack. Details of the work will be presented at the 2010 ICRA conference in a couple of weeks.