Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Automatic Laundry Folder
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The automatic clothes folding machine works as follows:-

- The automatic laundry folder comes as part of a dryer/folder combo. In such a combo, the folder will extract one article of clothes at a time from the dryer section of the combo and then fold that item. Note: paired items, such as socks, are extracted last. If extracted early, paired items are merely returned to the dryer section, as paired items are sorted and paired once single items have been processed.

- For each extracted item, * folder detects bar codes on clothes. * folder includes a data store that describes how to fold each garment. * By unknown process, folder then folds each garment, and ejects folded garment into a stack of folded garments.

- Paired items are extracted last and are sorted into pairs and then folded.

- Process is complete and all dry items of clothes are now neatly folded and stacked, ready to be put away.

Note: advanced version may have different stacks or bins for different kind of items. For example, there could be separate baskets for socks or panties placed by the folder, with the folder able to position its ejection chute to "aim" at the appropriate basket. So a user of the automatic clothes folder could end up with a basket of socks, a basket of underwear, a stack of shirts etc.

Note: while I came up with this half-baked idea independently, there is a similar proposal on this site. The main distinction here is simply that the identification of the garments depends on a relatively low-tech solution. Barcodes on the garments. Also some the folder is integrated with a dryer, allowing a user to just start a dryer/folder cycle and come home to dry, folded clothes, ready to put away.

As for actually programming the folder, and making it reliable, and error-free enough to be adopted as a household appliance, I only hope that someone can figure out how to do this. Reliable manipulation of the clothes, I suspect, would be very difficult, as there would be such a wide variety of clothes, and identifying key points in the clothes, where they should be manipulated and folded would require significant "smarts".

The savvy reader will note that socks do not have barcodes! So while some garments might be identified by barcodes, how would one identify items that do not have barcodes? Possibly the folder could visually inspect socks, by size, weight, texture and color and then pair them on that basis?

This half-baked invention should also incorporate the suggestion of DuckDodgers: it should be possible to register family members with the sorter, so that clothing can be sorted by family member. No more embarrassing underwear mix-ups.

Finally, this half-baked idea relies on an unknown process (aka magic) to do the folding, one possible area of interest would look for a solution based on computational origami. This is a real field of computer science on how to fold things. So one wonders if some intersection of artificial intelligence, computational origami, sensor technology and robotics (or vacumn technology) might someday come together to make this possible. It certainly would an interesting technical challenge for technical schools like MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley (my school, go bears!), Cal Poly, etc, as it would involve coordinate efforts from multiple disciplines.

sfgower, Mar 23 2010

//Handling cloth is one of the most difficult automation processes// http://www.eecs.ber...sonal_robotics.html
[mouseposture, Apr 02 2010]


       Too complicated. What is required is a clothes compactor that compresses them so densely so as to create unobservable micro wrinkles.
rcarty, Mar 23 2010

       At this point only the simplest of garment manufacturing processes are automated, and in those the cloth is neatly laid out and in a known position. Handling cloth is one of the most difficult automation processes I'm aware of, so I have to agree with [21] here.
MechE, Mar 23 2010

       [Ian] So have I - and I've discovered that the quality of smart non-iron cotton shirts has improved enormously over the last decade.
hippo, Mar 23 2010


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