We have covered clothing folding robots such as FoldiMate (~$1000), but when it comes to folding, Laundroid by SevenDreamers is the most ambitious, and expensive, system. I first saw Laundroid as a technological demo in Japan during the CEATEC 2015 show. Since then the company has been gearing towards shipping its products and has started taking some pre-orders, although it will open the orders to the public in March 2018.
Laundry folding has not evolved at all, and except for a few dedicated people, it is fair to say that most of us really dislike having to fold clothing. There is indeed a market to automate this chore if/when the price and functionality are right.
Laundroid is based on the idea that you should be able to bulk-throw your clean and dry laundry in a basket and go away, letting the machine do the all folding automatically. No user intervention is required. You come back some time, later and pick up the folded clothes to put them in a closet. The capacity of the latest prototype is ~30-40 pieces depending on size.
“NO USER INTERVENTION IS REQUIRED”
Laundroid is not fast: it takes about ~5mn to fold one item right now. However, because you can drop your clothes in bulk, you don’t have to wait around for it to do its work. More complex items such as dress shirts may require even longer. Because the folding process can take up 4 hours or more, the robot has been designed to operate at a quiet 35db which is a noise level comparable to a countryside night.
There is even two sorting mode: by category (towels, t-shirt, etc.) or by person/family member. The latter works by registering each user and having Laundroid memorize clothing items photos for everyone. From there, the robot will know how to create a pile for each person.
The company is already working with Panasonic to create a Washer/Dryer/Folder combo that would be the dream laundry appliance in which you throw in dirty laundry and come back later to find clean and folded clothes, ready to be stored. There are around 40 patents involved in this folding technology (20 deposit, and 20 pending). Note that Panasonic has invested $60M in Laundroid.
WiFi is required to run Laundroid because there is a cloud component in the folding calculation and also a smart home aspect that lets users remotely check on what the robot is doing and do more things with apps. Doing folding calculations in the cloud ensures that users get algorithm upgrades without having to integrate a crazy-powerful processor with lots of data storage in the folding machine. It will help first-generation systems stay up to date with the latest progress.
This folding robot consumes about 1/10 of the electric power of a Dryer, and it’s equivalent to a Washer. Folding 30-40 item consumes as much electricity as washing time.
When Ubergizmo co-founder Eliane Fiolet talked with Laundroid CEO Shin Sakane, he mentioned that the company has been working for 12 years on this challenge. Folding laundry requires handling soft materials with robotic arms and being able to recognize what kind of clothing and material the robot is dealing with.
Using arms makes everything more difficult, but eventually, the robot can deal with anything a human can if the AI is smart enough. Socks matching and folding will appear in the next-generation. With Deep Learning AI breakthroughs only a few years behind us, the road was long to get to where Laundroid is today.
“THE $16000 PRICE MAY SEEM OUTLANDISH BUT SO WHERE PLASMA TVS WHEN THEY CAME OUT”
Laundroid will launch in March in select places in the USA – the SF Bay Area was mentioned by Mr. Sakane. Japan and China will also be territories where Laundroid can be ordered. At “Above $16,000”, Laundroid isn’t cheap and will be targeted at wealthy early adopters and supporters of SevenDreamers’ vision of the future of folding and clothing management.
Today, the $16000 price may seem outlandish but so where plasma TVs when they came out. In time and with more data and better AI, the idea of Laundroid could very well make its way into ordinary people’s homes. Clothes folding is a multi-disciplinary and extremely challenging task. Laundroid has the broadest and most in-depth vision to solve this problem the way people really want it: put the dirty clothes in the machine, and that’s it.