The last laundry-folding robot we saw in action took a long time to get a small towel neatly folded into a little rectangle, and that was with the video sped up.
Laundroid is no faster, based on a demonstration at the 2015 CEATEC consumer electronics show, which took place almost exactly one year ago in Tokyo. It’s the result of a collaboration between Daiwa House, Panasonic, and Seven Dreamers, and while it’s a great concept (in theory), it took several minutes for the robot — hidden inside a futuristic-looking black cabinet — to fold up a freshly washed T-shirt, according to Engadget. Although it did the task decently, if not in Martha Stewart-approved style, it’s obviously not ready to take on a basket full of jeans and sheets.
All the same, it’s not your time the bot is wasting, and you’re still saving yourself time by not having to fold your laundry yourself, so we won’t blame you if you get in line to be one of the first owners of Laundroid when pre-orders begin in March 2017. While the bot will initially be offered exclusively in Japan, a “limited number” are expected to go on sale in the United States at a later date as well.
The Laundroid isn’t the only machine of its kind, and indeed, there’s a homegrown American version as well. Researchers at University of California, Berkeley have made a laundry bot using Willow Garage’s $280,000 Personal Robot 2, though it’s no quicker at the task at hand than the Japanese version. This is because clothing and towels are “deformable objects,” meaning their shapes differ depending on how it’s bunched up. A glass always looks the same, but a shirt has many different forms. Because these items aren’t folded in the same way, the bot first needs to determine what it is.
“The challenges posed by robotic towel-folding reflect important challenges inherent in robotic perception and manipulation for deformable objects,” assistant professor Pieter Abbeel tells UC Berkeley News Center. The Laundroid is having particular trouble with socks, apparently.
One difference between UC Berkeley’s robot and the Laundroid is that the latter is a stationary object, whereas the former is mobile and can also fetch you a beer. The Robot 2 is also further away from coming to a retailer near you, so even though it takes the Laundroid seven hours to fold an entire basket of clothes, it still currently has the advantage of the more Rosie-esque robot.
Article originally published in October 2015. Updated on 10-05-2016 by Lulu Chang: Added news of Laundroid pre-order availability in Japan in March 2017.