Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Sock Folding, or, Please Don't Let This Be My Only Legacy

In 2010, my Berkeley colleagues Ping Chuan (“Ted”) Wang, Mario Fritz, Trevor Darrell, Pieter Abbeel, and I participated in the PR2 Quick Start Video Competition — a challenge to make a 1-minute research video with the PR2 which would maximally entertain Willow Garage founder Scott Hassan.

Ted and Mario had been working on a classifier which could detect inside-out vs rightside-out socks, and asked if I could help get the PR2 to do something with it. Of course, its grippers were too fat for such a dexterous motion. So we used a pole, and got this winning result:

Now, I was a 21 year-old male at the time. And despite the funnier story which circulated the internet (“Out-of-touch researchers don’t realize what this looks like!”), we all had a serious laugh throughout the sleep-deprived hackathon. So when the video went viral, at least 4 of us were thrilled. The pinnacle of virality, in my mind, happened when I turned on the TV on 08/25/2010 and saw this (mildly NSFW):

It’s immature, gross-out, Family-Guy-brow humor. And it made me laugh a lot. When I was presenting the [eventual paper] at IROS 2011, the Attack of the Show crew were kind enough to donate footage. In good faith I never put it online, but now that the show is no longer in existence I think the statute of limitations has safely expired. I hope this doesn’t go down as the most famous research contribution I was a part of, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Also, here’s the IROS talk with my recut, less NSFW video: