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Researchers unveil eerie clothes-scaling robot

Appropriately dubbed “Clothbot,” the latest robot from researchers at China’s Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology is designed to climb loose cloth objects, such as clothing and drapes. Its creators hope this will give Clothbot a bit of anthropomorphic appeal, and that users will accept the device as something of a mechanical pet.

New Scientist reports:

The robot used a wheeled gripping mechanism to create wrinkles in a piece of cloth then simply drives straight up them. It also has a moving tail that adjusts its centre of gravity and allows it to change direction.

Clothbot weighs just 140 grams, so won’t leave you feeling weighed down, but why exactly would you want a clothes-climbing bot? Its creators say that Clothbot could be a tiny pet that climbs around your body, or even a moving phone that sits on your shoulder, leaving your hands free. I imagine it would also be great for frightening your more arachnophobic friends.

That’s an endearing idea, but you don’t really grasp the full scope of Clothbot’s bizarre aesthetics until you see the ‘bot in action. We’ve embedded a clip of the machine climbing at the bottom of this post, and would urge you all to watch the entire 40-second vignette.

While we grant that Clothbot’s unique form of locomotion is a rather impressive application of physics and robotics, the way it moves is just unsettling. The closest analogue we can imagine is a newborn panda bear clambering across its mother’s fur in an effort to find a viable teat. It seems hyperbolic to describe Clothbot’s movement as eerily sexual, but at this point we’re running out of adjectives to describe how baffling this machine looks while in operation.

The idea of a phone that perches on one’s shoulder, or wandering around town with a helpful robot buddy constantly at hand is enticing, but it would be far less bizarre if the robot simply rolled along next to its owner, or hovered in the air nearby. Then again, at least the researchers didn’t build Clothbot with an octet of spindly legs. Outside of technofetishist necromancers, we can’t see that design appealing to any kind of broad demographic.

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