Like most people, Gal Rozov hates folding laundry. But instead of complaining, the software developer decided to put his programming skills to work and create a laundry-folding robot! In 2012, after spending two years researching the most efficient design, Rozov moved from Israel to California and founded FoldiMate Inc. It took another four years, but by 2016, he had a working prototype of the namesake robot.
Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas this past January, the 66-pound robot, that is about 2/3 the size of an average laundry machine, is designed to easily fit above a washer or dryer. In addition to folding, it can also de-wrinkle and infuse fragrances into the clean, dry clothing.
To get started, the user clips the garment onto Foldimate’s horizontal rack and presses a button indicating the clothing type, such as a pair of pants or a shirt. The robot will determine the size, thickness, and sleeve length, and adjust its settings accordingly. The clothing is then transported into a chamber where rods and rollers straighten, fold, and flatten it into perfect shape. The machine which, depending on the fabric thickness can fit between 10 to 30 clothes, takes about 10 seconds to fold each item. The optional de-wrinkling using FoldiMate’s built-in steamer will add an extra ten to twenty seconds per garment. If that sounds slow, consider this: just last year, University of California Berkeley researchers worked on a robot that took twenty minutes to fold a single towel!
FoldiMate does have some limitations in that it cannot fold garments that are too small or large. This means things like underwear, socks, and bed sheets will still have to be folded the old-fashioned way. Despite these shortcomings, the laundry-folding robot has garnered tremendous interest, partly thanks to its viral promotional video that has been viewed almost 7 million times since its release in 2016. As of now, more than 195,000 people have registered to be alerted when the robot is available, and over 7,500 have paid the 10% deposit to be among the first to receive FoldiMate when it is released in late 2017 or early 2018.
Rozov isn’t the only one trying to automate this tedious, time-consuming chore. Japanese startup Seven Dreamers has been working on a similar machine, called Laundroid, since 2005. Also unveiled at the January CES show, it is equipped with a drawer where users can place an entire load of freshly done laundry. The Laundroid’s robotic arms grab one garment at a time, scan it for the location of buttons and collars, and fold it perfectly using sliding plates. Though a little easier than FoldiMate, which requires users to clip each garment, Laundroid is as big as a refrigerator and takes between 5 to 10 minutes to fold a single item! Additionally, at an estimated price of $2,700 USD, it is a lot more expensive than FoldiMate, which will cost a “mere” $850 USD. Now, if someone could only invent a robot to empty the dishwasher, life would be perfect!