A robot capable of sorting and folding clothes has been built by scientists in Glasgow, in a development which researchers hope will lead to the creation of a range of machines capable of carrying out household chores.
The 8ft-high robot, nicknamed Dextrous Blue, is able to establish which type of fabric is in front of it by using a pair of digital cameras as its “eyes” and sensitive grippers as its “hands”, which tell it the texture of the clothes it has picked up.
The machine, built in a laboratory at Glasgow University, is the result of three years of work by engineers from Scotland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Greece. The project – officially titled CloPeMa, or Clothes Perception and Manipulation – was funded by the EU and the researchers hope to secure a further grant to pursue their work.
Folding the clothes proved difficult for the robot. In the future the researchers hope to replace Dextrous Blue’s cake-cutter like appendages with prosthetic hands, allowing it to manipulate the clothes 100 per cent accurately every time.
Dr Paul Siebert, the computer scientist who led the project, said it had demonstrated how teaching a robot to complete even the simplest of tasks for humans could prove tricky. “You try folding clothes with a pair of pliers in each hand – it’s bloody difficult,” he said.
Pressure sensors were built into the robot’s grippers, allowing it to “feel” the texture of the clothing and establish whether it was handling a pair of denim jeans or a cotton t-shirt. It was also able to rub the material, with small microphones picking up the sound given off.
Dr Siebert said British textile producers may eventually be able to use similar machines to make clothes in their factories, rather than sending them around the world for the work to be completed by low-paid labourers.
He added that the potential for the technology was “vast” and was progressing at a rapid rate. Household robots with the ability to do basic chores may hit the market in as little as ten years, he predicted. “Things are happening so fast it may be earlier,” he said.
“What I think is an exciting prospect would be coupling the internet to the robot,” he added. “You might not even need a huge amount of computing power on the machine itself and certainly not a huge amount of storage. It’s going to be updated in real-time, on a day-to-day basis.”