Robot to pair socks!

Remember the fantastic video I posted in April of a robot folding laundry? The UC Berkeley researchers behind that breakthrough are now attempting to teach a robot a new chore: pairing socks. "The PR2 is presented with two socks. It then classifies each sock as either "inside" or "outside" and flips accordingly. Once both socks are in the proper orientation, it pairs them." (The video is sped up 15x.) The "Sockification" team have just won $5,000 for that effort from robot Willow Garage, makers of the PR2 robot seen in the clip. Be sure to also check out the other videos in the Willow Garage PR2 Quick Start Contest! (Thanks, Pieter Abbeel!)


  1. Well if the sock folding thing doesn’t work out, at least PR2 can find work in a massage parlor.

    “Bzzt You may now call me HappyEnding2000”

  2. I see that the film was sped up. What prevents robots, in this day and age, from moving at such a fair pace WITHOUT speeding up the film? Are the limitations mechanical or computational?

    1. I think it depends on the computational difficulty of the task, this one looks like it has a lot of image processing involved to get the right sock and then turn it out.

      Conversely, tasks which are more along the lines of pick up all these same things and put them in this box, are almost scarily fast. Viz, everyone’s fave industrial robot, the flexpicker:

    2. I was wondering that too.

      The mechanics definitely seem to be an issue; there’s a video of one playing music on piano and drums on the website, and it’s also sped up. Turning MIDI programming into a specified set of actions doesn’t seem like it would take a lot of computation.

      That said, in the video of the robot sorting mail, it seems to be taking a long time to “read” the mail, so maybe it’s slow in both ways.

      Either way, this seems so clearly to be just the beginning. I almost love how quaint these videos are. It’s like watching the dawn of a new time…

    3. i don’t think is either there are much faster robotic arms, im sure is just the project is not worth spending that much money on, so they decide to use some old arms

  3. Better pop *two* condoms on, just to be extra careful. Oh, by the way, have you seen my new robot … ?

  4. OK so first they create a robot to fold laundry, and now one to pair socks… could this be the most effective technique ever used to put off doing chores? “Why haven’t you done the laundry yet?” “I TOLD you, I’m building robots to take care of it, it’ll be done in another couple years.”

  5. My favorite part is the idle position.

    He is SO ready to pounce on those socks and organize the hell out of them.

    1. This, but also the way he very carefully lays down the flipped sock and smooths it out before getting ready to pounce again :D

  6. Sock pairer? Seems more like a good condom applier to me. Wonder if the wife would appreciate having one in the bedroom…

  7. It’s funny that offshoring my sockfolding to China is probably much cheaper and more effective. Although I don’t think Chinese sweatshopworkers will look so blissfull folding socks.

  8. Now if only there were a robot designed to recover the socks that disappear into the dryer vortex.

  9. What happens when you live someplace that isn’t big enough for both the sock-pairing robot and the laundry-folding robot? What happens when I get a pancake making robot too?

    I do have to say, this robot has a sweet little face. I wonder what kind of grip strength it has? It’s the perfect robot assassin; nobody would suspect that cute open-mouthed look it wears.

  10. Sock Folding.

    That’s the sort of shit that is gonna bring on the robot uprising

    Incidentally, there exist *far* faster robot hands:

    1. In my future I prefer the kinder sock folding robots over your high speed kung fu killer bots. Those are scary.

  11. I love at about 37 seconds in, when it pulls one arm back out of the way, the movements remind me of an obese man trying to reach a dinner plat.

  12. I wonder why they didn’t design it to just grasp the edge of the sock with one hand, and send the other hand down the sock to grasp the toe, then pull it inside-out. You know, like we humans do it.

    How much harder could that have been?

    1. Because that kind of almost-unconscious human manipulation required a large number of sense neurons and processing to work out what we are toughing when we reach into a sock, and how to grasp it. Similarly for something like pulling your keys out of your pocket without pulling everything else out.

      I think it would have been a great way to solve it, but it would certainly have been many times more difficult than this brute-force method.

      1. I wouldn’t have thought so. I insert my hand, pincer fashion, with thumb and forefinger(s) stiffly extended about 1.5″ apart, to the bottom of the sock, pulling up on the sock’s neck with a couple of pounds of pressure so that the toe area of the sock is pulled tight between the extended digits. Since the fingers stretch out the material some small distance, closing the gap between the fingers *always* grasps the toe of the sock. And then I pull it out.

        This always works for me, not only with no conscious thought but also with no real sensory variation whatsoever. Inside-out socks don’t generally contain pocket-change or car keys; indeed, they are similar enough on a generic sock-to-sock basis that I could perform this action pretty reliably with kitchen tongs and closed eyes, once I’ve ascertained whether a sock is inside-out or not.

        Just seems simpler (and less time-consuming, less silly, though regrettably less salacious) then repeatedly pounding the sock over and over on a chromed phallus.

  13. The revolt will come when, in an effort at self-improvement, it recognizes the humor in the video or these comments.

  14. A custom-built robot can do the job it’s been custom-made for, very efficiently. Humans can do things that humans often do, very efficiently. But this contest wasn’t testing either of those things.

    To test something similar to what the contest was testing, get someone who has not performed this task so often that they no longer notice the very subtle micro-movements and learnt behaviours that make this work. Give them the tongs.

    Using only PR2 programming language, explain to them how to do the “turn inside out” thing you do so well. I think you might find it’s more complex than it looks. You might feel the need to take the sock off them and say “Look, HERE’S how you do it!” – but that would be cheating. Continue to explain to them, in PR2 programming language. If they do anything you didn’t explicitly tell them to do (like picking up an item after dropping it) then get them to start over.

    It would be advantageous if your assistant came only with the non-modified arms that a PR2 comes with, because that was a requirement of the competition. Failing that, give them a pair of pliers to use, to manipulate the tongs :P

    1. Well, that’s what I get for just watching the video and not reading the link about the contest.

      Just saying “its hands were too big, and they weren’t allowed to modify them” would have sufficed.

  15. I throw all my socks in a pile and take two off the top each day. Consequently, all my pairs are alike.

    And that robot ain’t sortin’, it’s jackin’.

  16. I don’t care about the outside-in-ness of the socks. I can do that while putting them on. But I want pairs! A robot that could take a pile of socks and pair them, that would be worthwhile.

  17. Love it! I wonder when there’ll be robots that can do basic “two hands operated” home chores like this AND that makes economic sense to average middle-class consumers (maybe similar in cost to buying a new washing machine)? 5 years? 10?

  18. Fan-flippin-tastic!

    Can’t wait for robots to take over all menial jobs. Then perhaps us all will be able to be human

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