Engineers at Tokyo-based company Seven Dreamers started developing a laundry folding robot called Laundroid in 2005, and now there is finally a robot to show off at CES 2018.
We haven’t seen it in person yet, but we spoke with Seven Dreamers CEO Shin Sakane for a preview. The idea is: you drop clean, dry clothes into a box in a pretty home appliance, and then several hours later you can collect the folded, sorted items.
“Soft material like clothing is one of the hardest problems for AI even now,” Sakane says. “Laundry folding seems like an easy task but it’s actually very hard, so that’s why no one has ever done it before.”
Washing machines and dryers treat each item of clothing the same, but folding requires the appliance to identify garments and be able to physically fold them. Folding a towel is more complicated than it seems, and socks are currently impossible.
Sakane explains, “Sock pairings is one of the most difficult tasks, because even the latest AI we’ve developed is very hard to distinguish between, for example, dark navy-blue socks and black socks. Or almost the same black color but different textures, or the worst one is when it’s the right pair but one sock shrunk.”
To tackle the tedious task of folding laundry, Laundroid consists of three technologies: image analysis, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Even though there are multiple robot arms that fold the clothes, they are hidden inside a box that is styled like Italian luxury furniture, made of leather, wood, and glass. The materials are purposefully luxurious since the price point — starting at $16,000 for the base model — is much higher than most home appliances.
It is expensive, but we are lazy, home robots are exciting, and laundry never ends. Sakane says, “You can load up to 30 clean dry clothes and press the button, wait a few hours and then you’ll see folded laundry sorted into either clothing categories or family members.
It seems like someone who can afford an unnecessary $16,000 home appliance probably isn’t doing their own laundry anyway, but Sakane says that nearly 500 people have already signed up to purchase a Laundroid. The price should drop significantly when the volume increases. Sakane tells us, “A lot of technologies are in our software, and software is expensive to develop but easy to apply for a mass production product.”