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Sewing robot masters handling fabric, could change how clothes are made

Telling a technologist that something can’t be done is a bit like holding the proverbial red flag to a bull. “I was watching How It’s Made, one of my favorite TV shows,” 30-year-old inventor Jonathan Zornow told Digital Trends. “I was amazed to realize that all of our clothes were made by hand, with no robots involved. For such a large industry, this seemed like an incredibly inefficient process.”

Jump forward, and after a few years spent sharing his tiny studio apartment with a rented industrial robot, Zornow is now the proud inventor of Sewbo: a garment-making robot designed for automating the process of skillfully guiding fabrics through sewing machines.

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“The big hurdle has been that robots can’t reliably handle fabrics,” Zornow continued. “Sewbo’s approach is to temporarily stiffen materials, making it easy for industrial robots to assemble clothes. We’re using a water-soluble polymer to temporarily strengthen the fabrics. Once stiffened, it’s easy for off-the-shelf industrial robots to handle them. The plastic-fabric panels can be easily cut, molded, welded together, and sewn through. Afterwards, the plastic is rinsed off in hot water.”

It’s an ingenious step that lets the work be done using a regular sewing machine and a standard $35,000 robot arm built by the company Universal Robots. The arm in question can be retrained with different series of moves — so it could easily be used to produce a wide range of different garments.

“The concept is still at prototype stage,” Zornow concluded. “[Right now], I am currently building a team and recruiting partners to bring this into production environments.”

At the very least, tools like Sewbo mean the Terminator will no longer have to ask humans to make their clothes when the inevitable rise of the machines takes place. He can ask Sewbo to knock out a wardrobe of his own, instead.