Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I for one would love a robot

SALVATION is at hand for everyone reduced to tears by the challenge of putting together Ikea flatpack furniture. An American university is developing a robot to assemble an Ikea Billy bookcase.
The Swedish company has sold more than 1m self-assembly Billys and that, Andrew Ng of Stanford University has declared, may have given rise to 1m too many cries for help.
The London-born scientist, who is assistant professor of computer science at Stanford in California, has declared war on inscrutable instructions, baffling ranges of screws and keys and the inevitable moment when the novice realises his bookcase has been built back-to-front.
“I bought two Billys for my own apartment and after struggling with the first I realised I dreaded the thought of assembling the second.
“It was soul-destroying drudgery and I knew there were other fun things I could be doing rather than getting to grips with a Billy,” Ng said last week.
He has assembled 30 computer scientists at Stanford, a world leader in robotically driven cars, and set out to crack the Ikea conundrum. It is a serious endeavour: the 30-year-old Ng, son of a Hong Kong doctor, hopes the team will salvage robotics from what experts call its “nuclear winter”, which has seen the abandonment of the dream of android butlers or Terminator killer machines.

Technically challenged Britons are turning to specialists such as John Griffin whose Unflatpack company will assemble Ikea furniture in the home. Griffin said he was intrigued but not threatened by the robot. “We would give it a week’s trial but I think we’ll stick with human common sense.”
Wendy Clark, a spokesman for Ikea, welcomed the news from Stanford. “I for one would love a robot,” she said(from Sunday Times)

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