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The science of FOLDING CLOTHES: Robotics engineers reveal technique for packing garments into neat squares

For anyone packing for their holidays this year, getting their clothes to fit neatly inside their bags is always a struggle.

But robotics engineers have now come up with what they say is the best way to fold a variety of clothes into neat little rectangles.

Their findings, of course, are intended to help a new generation of robots take on some of our more monotonous household chores.


However, their work has also revealed the most effective ways of folding clothing so it can be stacked and packed away that may also help humans too.

They use a principal that they have called the 'g-fold' - where clothing is laid out on a flat surface and gravity is used to help assist the folding of clothing.

THE LAUNDRY ROBOT 

It could be the ultimate home help - able to find your dirty clothes, wash them, and even fold them before neatly putting them away.

The robot developed by researchers at the University of California Berkeley is able to wash and fold clothes, recognise different items so they can be folded neatly away. 

Using Willow Garage's $280,000 Personal Robot 2, the researchers have been able to get their robot to take washing out oa basket, place them in a washer.

 

The semi-humanoid robot is 'roughly the size of a person' and features two arms, claw-like 'gripper' hands, a front-facing screen head, and a tilting Hokuyo laser scanner that continuously flaps up and down like an ever-chattering mouth. 

Using Willow Garage's $280,000 Personal Robot 2, Berkeley students have written software to allow it to do almost every part of the laundry process

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Using Willow Garage's $280,000 Personal Robot 2, Berkeley students have written software to allow it to do almost every part of the laundry process

For a jumper, for example, they suggest folding the sleeves in half first at the elbow and then folding them in at the shoulders.

They then suggest folding the body of the jumper into the middle from both sides before then folding it in half.

With a pair of trousers they suggest folding them along the crotch and then down the middle.

The approach is published in a research paper describing how domestic robots can help around the home.

Dr Pieter Abbeel, an associate professor in computer science at the University of California Berkeley, and his colleagues who have been conducting the research, said they attempted to solve the problem of folding clothing by treating it as a problem of geometry.

They said: 'Spread crudley on a table, real-world clothing items do not perfectly resemble simple polygons.

'They contain curves rather than straight lines, corners which are rounded rather than sharp, and small intricacies which no two articles of a given class will necessarily share.

'Rather than reason explicitly about these complex shapes, we wish to transpose them as best we can into a shape which we know how to fold.'

The researchers have now used their findings to help develop a robot that is able to sort and fold laundry.

They developed software that allowed the Willow Garage Personal Robot to grip clothes with claw like gripper hands and lay it out on a flat surface.