Today, thanks to technological advances, we can avoid doing a good number of household chores ourselves. However, when it comes to folding laundry, there is not yet a robot on the market that can do it for you.
If you do not yet have this type of robot commercially available, it is because even with robotic arms and artificial intelligence, this task remains complicated. But the good news is that researchers are working on it. And we’re getting closer and closer to a viable product.
In a recent article, our colleagues from Ars Technica relay the invention of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. This is a laundry folding robot.
Folding linen, a challenge for robotics
To be precise, this is not the first robot created to perform this household task. However, this one, called SpeedFolding, has just broken a speed record in its category.
According to Ars’ explanations, the robot is able to fold 30 to 40 randomly arranged garments per hour. And if that sounds slow to you, know that according to the researchers, the previous robot could only fold 3 to 6 garments per hour.
As a result, this feat brings us a little closer to a world where humans no longer fold laundry. And besides, 30 to 40 garments per hour is already good, if a robot does it.
To achieve this feat, the researchers used two robotic arms, with an adaptation to allow them to grab the laundry more easily. These two arms are controlled by artificial intelligence.
Called BiMaMa-Net, the neural network first analyzes the state of the laundry, then it has to calculate how to pick up and fold it. To train this AI, 4,300 human or robot-assisted actions were used. It is from the analysis of this data that the network learns to fold the laundry as a person would. As a result, on average, SpeedFolding can fold a garment in 120 seconds, with a success rate of 93%.
A very expensive prototype
As you will have understood, folding laundry is very complicated for robots. “Folding clothes reliably and efficiently is a long-standing challenge in robotic manipulation”, can we read in the publication. However, with this new approach using an AI and two robotic arms (some robots only used one arm), these researchers found a way to speed up the process.
Unfortunately, this robot is not a commercial product. And moreover, the material used is far from being accessible. Indeed, the arms would cost several tens of thousands of euros.
But this scientific publication could, one day, interest a brand so that it can design an economically viable product. In the meantime, the researchers believe that their robot could still be of interest to companies, for example in the textile industry. And you, you may be more motivated to fold your laundry knowing that for the moment, you are faster than the robots.