Laundry-folding Robots

Robots are rubbish at folding laundry. Over the years, this one task has come for many people to symbolize the things robots just can’t do. Naturally, other people have responded to this by trying to make their robots fold laundry.

It’s kind of a perverse reaction, really. Folding laundry is not a particularly dirty or dangerous job. It may be dull, but it can also be a contemplative process, and people don’t end up with repetitive motion injuries from doing it. Why try to make robots do that when they are capable of doing all kinds of jobs that really are better automated?

We don’t know. It’s a challenge. That’s enough for some folks.

So researchers from UC Berkeley and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology gave it the old college try.

The robot can fold clothes!


Their robot can indeed fold clothes. “After learning from 4300 human-annotated or self-supervised actions, the robot is able to fold garments from a random initial configuration in under 120s on average with a success rate of 93%,” the paper on the subject crows.

Since previous attempts found that it could take robots 20 minutes to fold one item, this is a step up. But 120 seconds is still two minutes. NPR reports that it takes a human being 20 minutes to fold an entire load of laundry, and that’s with a success rate of 100%. An individual tried it out on video and found that she could fold a load of laundry in 6.5 minutes. She didn’t report her success rate, but we’re pretty sure she would have mentioned it if she had not been able to complete the task.

What’s more, the new laundry folding robot can’t handle big things like sheets or small things like socks. That knocks out a lot of laundry — certainly a lot of the laundry in commercial operations, hotels, and hospitals, where laundry-folding robots would be most useful.

We hope this will be a step toward better opportunities in industrial automation…somehow.

No matter what you use your Indramat motion control systems to accomplish, we can help you keep your machinery in working order, avoiding the cost and problems that go with unscheduled downtime. Contact us for immediate assistance.