The race to create the holy grail of domestic robots: a laundry-folding machine

Soon, evenings and weekends spent folding laundry could be a thing of the past.

Laundroid, a sleek refrigerator-sized machine developed by Japanese company Seven Dreamers, has been designed to relieve you of one the more mundane domestic chores. Users dump their unsorted clothes into a pull-out drawer near the base. Inside, a robot picks up each item of clothing, uses a combination of image analysis and artificial intelligence to figure out what it is—a shirt, a skirt, pants—and then folds it accordingly. (Sorry, you’ll still have to pair up socks on your own.)

It’s not the only robot that wants to join your laundry room. California-based FoldiMate is slightly more cumbersome but ultimately more efficient in pumping out folded clothes. You have to clip each item of clothing to the front of the machine before the magic happens: it draws them in one by one and then the sensors on the robot arms inside tell the machine how to fold the particular piece of clothing. Then, the machine sprays steam to de-wrinkle the fabrics, and perfume is added for fragrance. While Laundroid takes between three to 10 minutes to fold a single item, FoldiMate takes 10 seconds to fold and another 20 to 30 for steaming. The FoldiMate, which is about the size of a standard washer or dryer, can hold 10 to 30 items at once in its tray.

Laundroid’s creators say users could compensate for its time consuming nature by running it overnight or while they’re at work. And loading it with clothes is exactly like dropping them in a laundry basket. The company is aiming to “integrate washing and drying” in the successive model. “The third generation will be integrated in to smart homes,” Guy Hayazaki of Seven Dreamers told Quartz in an email. Ideally, by then, the machine could sort folded clothes by person, closet, or room—however the user pleases.

Convenience, of course, isn’t cheap. The FoldiMate costs $800 and pricing for the Laundroid hasn’t been disclosed yet. “At one point, people thought dishwashers, washers and dryers were all too expensive, yet today they are standard home appliances,” FoldiMate said in a statement a few months ago. Both companies are accepting pre-orders in 2017 and expecting their first units to ship in 2018. Laundroid’s first set of orders, starting March 2017, will be limited to Japanese consumers while FoldiMate is aiming for worldwide shipping right away.

Folding clothes is an incredibly difficult task for a machine to master: the software has to identify the clothing’s material, size, and shape; be able to fold it appropriately; and finish the chore in a reasonable amount of time. Last year, researchers at University of California Berkeley were working on a robot that took 20 mins to fold a towel. “Smart researchers have produced a towel-folding robot that can’t keep up with an average 8-year-old,” NPR wrote about the research.

Once companies perfect the engineering challenge of sorting through clothes and organizing them, all we’ll need is a robotic maid like Rosie from The Jetsons to handle the rest of our housework.

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