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AI-powered laundry-folding robot company has filed for bankruptcy (theverge.com)
118 points by prostoalex 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 190 comments



You have to admit the washing machine is one of wonders of the modern world, yet taken for granted. Until they were invented, a wife or servant essentially devoted most of a whole weekday to washing clothes. A washing machine and dryer cuts this to a couple hours a week. Clever people seek to cut this time even further.


But it turns out that washing machines didn't do much to save time. In the past people just didn't wash their clothes as often. Now people will wash their clothes after a single wear, and it's still mostly women who are doing the washing in families.

https://twitter.com/TimHarford/status/1113123861602713600

https://twitter.com/DeconinckKoen/status/1054097445351776256


> But it turns out that washing machines didn't do much to save time.

Maybe not, but it has saved lives. Doing laundry by hand was hardcore and caused quite a lot of physical damage to people, including deaths.


What, from people falling into the river and drowning? Seems like me that an electrical fire from a washing machine is about as likely.


This is actually a really interesting topic. So interesting that at least one book was written on it (called "Save Women's Lives: The History of the Washing Machine").

The tl;dr version is this: doing laundry entirely by hand involves a high level of physical exertion, most of it highly repetitive and crouched over in an unnatural manner for a substantial amount of time. This alone caused a great deal of physical injury and deformity, sometimes leading directly to death.

The washing machine itself was not really invented as a time-saving device. It was invented primarily to make doing laundry less physically harmful. Any time savings was just gravy.

It is commonly held by researchers that the washing machine (we're not even talking about electric or automatic washing machines here) is one of the top 10 most important inventions in terms of impact on health and longevity.


We still saved a ton of time in comparison to how clean our clothes are.


Slightly tangential but on the other hand, washing clothes pollutes the oceans with plastic[0][1] i.e. washing more frequently causes more pollution.

[0]: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/27/washing-clot...

[1]: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/19/17800654/clothes-pla...


“Syntactic fibers” is a major limitation on that research.

100% cotton/silk etc clothes don’t have that issue.


True, but if you've shopped for clothes in the US/Europe then you surely noticed that most clothing contains some percentage of synthetic fibers.


I wouldn't be surprised if it's balanced out by having to spend more time shopping for clothes because all those repeated trips through the washer and dryer wear them out more quickly.

A while back we got fed up with our apartment's laundry facilities, and switched to one of those Haier portable washer units, drying on a clothesline, and washing less often. At this point I'm almost annoyed with how much longer my clothing is lasting, because I'm ready for some new colors.


We have a completely different experience, I have many of the same polos and jeans as I had 10 years ago. Still going strong with just a bit of fading. Small differences in people's perspective and lifestyles like this is fascinating to me.


> all those repeated trips through the washer and dryer wear them out more quickly.

Particularly the drier. But I think most people use their driers wrong -- they want their clothes to be bone dry when they come out, and that's what causes the largest amount of wear and tear (all that lint in your lint trap is the result of damage to your clothing). Better to have the drier get the clothes almost, but not quite, completely dry.


What difference does your Haier make? I don't follow the effect it has. I'm from Ireland where using a washing machine and a clothesline is the norm and a drier is less common. I think I might be missing some of the context for your point


I'm not sure that it's really the key difference. The main thing is that its small load size, together with needing to line dry, encourages us to be more judicious about how frequently we wash our garments. I wouldn't be surprised if the way that it agitates turns out to be gentler, though.

Dryers are probably the worst of it. Every time you clean a lint trap, it's a demonstration of how much wear and tear they put on fabric.


Ah cool, yeah I would agree with you. I was wondering if there was an extra dimension I was missing


Nicer clothes also last longer, they stand up to washing.


Don’t do that then.


"washing" is a euphemism for pressing a button, though


This is a gross oversimplification, especially washing in a family (> 1 person).

1. Sorting - when you buy clothing, do you take handling instructions into account? Accounting for handling is very hard! Good luck shopping online, hunting through instruction tags hidden on sides of clothes, all while keeping price reasonable. I do not like shopping, so I choose the first thing that looks ok and is comfortable - I am often left with unpleasant surprises when laundering. Some dryclean only, some handwash-only, some fine with washing but no dryer, some with dryer ok but tumble-dry only.

2. Do you have an in-unit washer? I do not - I traverse 7 flights of stairs to communal apartment laundry room.

3. Do you need to use quarters for the machine? If yes, this takes an extra trip to bank beforehand.

4. 7 flights of stairs again to transfer some of the clothes to a dryer, others ...

5. ... Need to be line-dried and hung, somewhere.

6. Finally, the clothes that could be normally washed must be folded and put away, not stuffed into a drawer (even simple t-shirts get wrinkled this way).

"washing" is not just pressing a button.


Step 1 becomes progressively easier after each wash. Steps 2, 3, 4 are completely eliminated by having an in-unit washer as you said, like most families in western Europe do at least. Step 6 is also pretty quick with practice.


Step 6 is quick for a couple of adults. Add in kids, though, and takes an order of magnitude longer—especially when the kids are both young enough to be going through multiple outfits per day and are asleep (thereby restricting the ability to put clothes away) during the best times to do chores.


You skipped IMO the most time-intensive step #5 - hanging the clothes to dry.


Steps 1 and 6 are optional overcomplications, unless you wear fancy/sensitives on daily basis. Lining up clothes, 5 minutes max and they can ‘fold’ and straighten right on the line - I regularly pick my jeans and t shirts right off the hanger. Sure you can spend hours doing it by the book, but that s a choice, no longer a necessity

The thing thats terrible time sink is ironing


You also paid for the washer and water and electricity... With your working time...


No, for many people "washing" is a euphemism for gathering clothing from various rooms, sorting it into different loads (hot wash, cool wash, whites and colours), loading the machine with clothing, loading detergent (and buying the detergent), pressing the button (while selecting a program that doesn't destroy the clothing), taking the clothing out of the machine and putting it in the dryer or hanging it on the clothes line, taking it from the dryer / line and ironing it if needed, then folding it if needed, then distributing it back around the various rooms to include hanging if needed.

The fact that we dismiss this work mostly done by women by saying it's just pushing a button is probably sexism.


As someone who is washing his own laundry since he was able to reach the detergent in the cupboard, it's literally a push of a button after turning a wheel to select the program. You can make anything sound complicated by listing every little step necessary to perform a task but that doesn't make it hard.

You buy detergent when you buy toilet paper, you throw your cloths into a hamper to not have to run around to gather them, and you hang them on a line in max 10 minutes. Ironing is something you don't need to do unless you want to buy cloths that require it.

Just because something might be done primarily by women it's not sexist to call it easy.


Almost every single step of those are optional depending on the people in the household.

For us everyone is responsible to bring their clothes to the wash baskets and sort based on temperature.

Very few modern clothing require cool wash, and in my household we don't own any.

Very few white clothes and discoloration from washing whites with colors is so minimal with modern clothing/washing machines so we don't bother. The only exception is when cleaning white table cloths in order to remove stains.

Non-dryer clothes are avoided if possible.

We don't work at places which require ironed clothes.

Washing is thus for us: loading the machine (located in the apartment) with clothing from one of the two baskets when they are full, filling the detergent ball, selecting 40 or 60 depending on which basket is used, putting it in the dryer when the washer alarm goes off, taking it from the dryer when the dryer alarm goes off, and finally everyone collects their clean clothes. We could argue how common this is, and if there is a cultural difference here between US and Sweden, but I don't have any data beyond my own experience.


This is really getting into the weeds here, but my partner and I (hetero couple in our 30s) do laundry maybe once a week, but it is a pretty time-intensive process because half of all of our clothes are cold-wash, half of those are line-dry, and following the directions like that significantly extends how long they last and stay brightly colored.

It takes a couple of hours a week, and usually falls to me since I work from home.

Saying some steps are "optional" requires compromises that probably a lot of people are unwilling to make; so not necessarily a meaningful way to call things optional.


You seem to have missed folding, which is both the most labor-intensive part and the one OP was about. Also, who nags the kids (or other adults) to do their part? That's work too.


If someone want their clothes folded they fold them when picking them up from the clean pile.

Not going to comment what parents with children should do, at what ages and so on. That is just begging to get into a discussion where everyone just disagree with each other.


> If someone want their clothes folded they fold them when picking them up from the clean pile

It's still work, isn't it? When it gets done is irrelevant.

My larger point is that your "it's not that hard" is only true in a very narrow set of circumstances that I'm skeptical exist even for you. Many problems seem simple if you constrain the variables tightly enough. But in the real world, not everyone dresses exclusively in clothes that don't wrinkle if left alone after drying, or work in jobs where looking like a hobo is acceptable. And anyone who claims that every family member including children automatically does their part in a complex series of steps without any goading at all is either deceiving themselves or trying to deceive others. The discipline is being enforced, and we don't all have the privilege of turning a blind eye while partners do it.


Similar to people in other comments, I do not normally fold my clothes. It is my choice and thus optional, which was my point. How much work a person spend washing depending on optional choices.

> work in jobs where looking like a hobo is acceptable

That is a bit offensive. Not everyone is a model and earn money depending on their appearance. There exist a quite large middle ground between hobo and model.


> There exist a quite large middle ground between hobo and model

You're the only one who brought up models, so the dichotomy is yours.


> I'm skeptical exist even for you.

> work in jobs where looking like a hobo is acceptable.

> or trying to deceive others.

looks like someone needs to work on their argumentation


> Almost every single step of those are optional depending on the people in the household.

Indeed.

I'm lazy, and as a result I select my clothing almost entirely with minimizing washing effort in mind. I tend to buy clothes that I don't need to sort out before washing, I buy most of my socks to be identical so I don't have to match them, I avoid clothes that require ironing to look even halfway presentable, and so forth.

Properly done, laziness can be an art form.

All that said, I do fold my clothes. For me, it's not that time-consuming or difficult.


I assume you live in a country which also has a dryer? In Europe AFAIK most people don't have one (at least nobody I knows has one), therefore hanging a load afterwards takes 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your washing machine, which generally they are considerably smaller than US versions, hence requiring multiple sessions if you have more than one person in the household.

I'm not complaining, 10-20 minutes per week is trivial, but it's also not just pressing a button.


What the button that when pressed, goes and gets the washing from various rooms, checks pockets and such, checks washing instructions and separates colours, and then hangs it out afterwards?


none of this is actual washing. it doesnt even require water. do you know how people used to wash their clothes?


Its supporting activity that you're only doing because you're doing the washing. I can't think of a situation where it wouldn't be correct to lump such activities in with the main activity.

Yes I do know how people used to wash clothes, and it would be a lot quicker if you missed out heating up the water on an open fire/range, and the mangling, and the hanging out of the clothes after. All features of wash day.


Related, the late Hans Rosling on washing machines; "I was only four years old when I saw my mother load a washing machine for the first time ever. That was a great day for my mother."

https://www.gapminder.org/videos/hans-rosling-and-the-magic-...


> A washing machine and dryer cuts this to a couple hours a week.

Maybe if you're doing a single person's laundry. Our family laundry is a job for more than a couple of hours.


I do the laundry in our home of 4 people, and not counting the time spent in the washing/drying machine, I probably spend (at most) an hour a week folding.


As far as I can tell, based on the statistics I can find, you are somewhat of an outlier:

https://www.bls.gov/TUS/CHARTS/HOUSEHOLD.HTM

This data doesn’t break the statistics down by family size, but it still comes out at 2h a week for woman. The data includes all individuals older than 15.

I suspect that the a average amount of time spend by families (particularly families with young children) would be much higher. Possibly up to an hour a day.

I would be interested in seeing statistics on this.


I must be an outlier as well. When my children were small, I was doing the laundry for the household. Two adults, two kids. I certainly wasn't spending more than an hour a week folding clothes. (My total time doing laundry was much higher, of course, particularly when the kids were diaper-age).


The parent comment seemed to suggest that they spent less than an hour was spent per week on all activities not including the clothes were in the washing machine. That’s what I was suggesting was low.


The parent comment was talking about folding specifically: "I probably spend (at most) an hour a week folding."


“not counting the time spent in the washing/drying machine, I probably spend (at most) an hour a week folding.”

This is unclear to me but implies that “folding” includes all laundry activities except “time spent in the washer dryer” (otherwise why mention it). I guess if you fold and put away everything, this could be the case.


Yes but this is an argument about the whole job. Washing, drying, folding and ironing. It's basically the worst thing in the universe. I can be philosophical about death...but not about laundry. In my Utopia everyone wears a kind of biodegradeable body wrap...and slippers.


Ah Ah! Solution --> stop ironing!

Get "no iron" clothes. Avoid tumble drying sheets and duvet covers (if you can) but don't dry them to crispy dry if you can't do that - instead let them be just dry and then fold them. Ignore wrinkles.


2 people in their 30s, spending maybe 1h/week together - I don't count the time machine runs since that's cca free time. Just loading it, unloading, putting on dryer, putting back to shelves. Actually its probably less than 1h. And I do intense sports cca 1x/day on average, so plenty of stuff and fiancee is pretty active too.

Who the hell does ironing these days? If you put it on the dryer properly, no ironing required. I work at the bank so formal dress 5 days a week, and the only requirement are self-ironing shirts (or whatever is the name). The rest can be achieved by drying/folding smartly. Unless of course you iron everything, including socks and underwear, then there is no help.


I do the laundry for two people and it takes me about an hour per week (including folding). Truthfully, it heavily depends on whether or not your family tends to throw everything in the wash immediately after they wear it or not. Even wearing a t-shirt for two days instead of one will make a huge difference in wash load (perhaps a bit obvious, but still).


Folding arbitrary pile of laundry completely unsupervised is super hard problem. I actually have more faith in solving self-driving before that :). It seems company was Japanese, used loan model (as opposed to VC funding) and went bankrupt probably because creditors went after them. Their machine cost $16,000. The article describes scenario at CES where someone tried giving it black t-shirt but apparently machine couldn't see it and got jammed! It also occurs to me that many people hang their cloth with hangers in closet instead of folding. Business proposition seems to be bit limited.


> Folding arbitrary pile of laundry completely unsupervised is super hard computing and robotics problem

FTFY. And the business proposition isn't "limited", it's stupid. An attempt to throw technology somewhere it cannot compete.

The opportunity cost for that $16k is paying somebody minimum wage to fold clothes for you for over 2000 hours. That would last a family of four about 38 years (just folding). Cleaners, housekeepers, nannies, etc all offer this sort of service, and more. Cleaning, ironing, folding, putting away and because of the lack of skills, and the availability of people to do it, they usually can't charge that much for it.

This robot took up a ton of space, barely worked by all accounts, did untold damage to clothes that got caught, and didn't do any other part of the cycle. I don't know how you can call that a proposition. It's neat but it's not saleable.


This version. It isn't ready yet. If they do a $2k robot that finds my dirty clothing on the floor and puts clean clothing in the correct closet/draws (my kids, wife, and mine...) and I'm interested. Laundry takes a lot of time, and paying someone isn't really cost effective.


> paying someone isn't really cost effective.

In particular, paying someone to do something makes you subject to a lot of extra regulations, which exist mainly because there's plenty of evil people who like to abuse people they hire. Getting a robot to do something for you is free from all that baggage, and if you mistreat your robot, it's only your loss.


Agencies can insulate clients from that sort of junk. A small percentage over the base, tends to bring liability insurance with it, so it's usually worth it.


Then again, given the horror stories I've heard about such agencies (exploiting and abusing old people and immigrants), if you're a human being with a conscience, you now have to vet the agency, which is a non-trivial task.


No, I think this line of thinking is exceptionally counterproductive.

If you are the sort of lovely person who is bothered by others' working conditions and rights, a cleaner in your home is absolutely the best outcome. Not only do you get to pay above the odds —if you want to— you get to see them, you can talk to them and ask them how they're doing in life.

Conversely how do you suppose the teenagers who assembled your robot is being cared for? What about the miners extracting the rare earth metals used in batteries and motors? What about the villages around said mines that suffer horrific levels of pollution? And what about the dump where all this ends up in under 10 years time?


> Not only do you get to pay above the odds —if you want to— you get to see them, you can talk to them and ask them how they're doing in life.

To the extent that it makes this person's work bearable, it worsens the situation. The company abusing the worker gets to earn that much more money and stay in business that much longer. If everyone did that, such companies would worsen their treatment even more (this is the same phenomenon that makes jobs desirable for non-economic reasons pay less; satisfaction gets deducted from your salary).

> Conversely how do you suppose the teenagers who assembled your robot is being cared for? What about the miners extracting the rare earth metals used in batteries and motors? What about the villages around said mines that suffer horrific levels of pollution? And what about the dump where all this ends up in under 10 years time?

The way to help those people isn't to buy more of their products, ensuring they have more work to do.


Abuse can exist anywhere, but I wager it is more likely in countries with little or no worker protections, and where there are more people working in poor conditions.

Because where I am, we do have worker protections, minimum wage, modern-day slavery rules that forbid indenture, maximum hours, health and safety regulations. The people in the factories and mines that make the robots have none of these.

My point above was that you are only ever able to detect abuse where you have contact. If you feel your cleaner is being abused (again, just talk to them) you have so many options for legally improving their situation.

That may mean the agency they worked for goes out of business under a hail of prosecutions, but there is a solid demand for cleaners (both self-employed and agency). Somebody else will step in and take on that work, and ultimately employ local people to do the same work.

> The way to help those people isn't to buy more of their products

Not sure if you got that the wrong way around but my point above was not to suggest that buying more robots is a good thing. If the quote above is what you meant, we agree.


Agreed. But I worry about the 'first-world' convenience of this argument. Boycott abusive employers, maybe put them out of business! But the poor people working there are out of a job too. And they needed that job - it was miserable and yet they kept working, so I know they really needed it.

People have to eat every day. To lose a job, even a miserable one, is not something I want to inflict on somebody, especially sitting in my armchair in my comfortable house on 80 acres in the heartland of America.

So where does that leave my ambitions to be ethical in my buying?


> if you're a human being with a conscience, you now have to vet the agency, which is a non-trivial task.

You pretty much have to vet any company you're contemplating doing business with anyway.


> If they do a $2k robot that finds my dirty clothing on the floor and puts clean clothing in the correct closet/draws

Yes -- priced properly, that would be a compelling product. But I'm guessing that's at least 20 years away.


I'll start positively, by agreeing. Yes, if you can make a robot for $2k that does all that, cooks and cleans, perhaps teaches the kids to ride their bikes, dispenses oral sex, etc, again yes, they will sell and sell fast. But that's really a very significant distance from what we have, which is a constellation of very expensive robots that are demonstrably worse than humans at doing tasks unskilled humans are pretty good at.

Even at the most basic level, a vacuum cleaner... It wasn't until last year that there was a self-emptying model. It still insanely slow. It's suction is still objectively awful. It still gets blocked up by anything hairier than a large cat. It still can't get into certain places. But that's going to be $1000 and you're still going to have to set it up, fix is when it breaks, etc.

A $200 stick vacuum and 10 minutes/week cumulative contact is much better. That $800 saved could pay for somebody to do that vacuuming (and more!) for you for 100 hours. Really, tell me what's more "cost effective".

But yes, if we somehow get a magical level of robot that can transcend stairs on their own, carry 20KG of washing up and down, fold it all up, put it away... That would be worth $2k. But that's just a robotic unicorn at this juncture.


My robotic vacuum is incredibly useful and keeps my home far cleaner than it would be without it. It vacuums most of the floor space of my apartment every day, rarely gets jammed or caught on something, and all I need to do is empty the bin every few days. I'd end up spending 15-20 minutes a day to clean as much as my robot does. With two animals in my home, hair appears on the floor instantly so its nice having a vacuum run daily.

My robotic vacuum cost ~$500 three years ago, and I've probably spent another $75 on battery replacements/filters. So $575 for floors cleaned daily over the last 3 years and I'll probably get another few years out of it for another $75. Definitely beats paying someone to come out to my home every day to vacuum.


8$/h for vacuuming? No way unless you're abusing illegal immigrants.


Minimum wage for cleaners is standard here, but whether or not that tallies with your experience will probably depend on the cost of living where you are.


well, you're assuming that its' only an hour of folding a week. It's highly variable for different people. But for families that do fold most of their clothes (and folding is the better way to store your clothes than just hanging it), many would spend over an hour doing it. My wife does most the laundry and we got two kids. It's a good half a day to clean all our weekly clothes, towels and sheets. There's a market for this product you put it in the exact way that explains why it failed.


I'm basing that on an extrapolation of our family, yes, but we do have a toddler, so I'm not that out of kilter with real life.

Remember we're only talking about folding here. I don't think we spend much more than an hour contact time doing the full cycle. But for folding, I allow 20 seconds an item, 180 items... With absolutely no checking, that seems right.

However you look at your personal situation, you have to generate a lot more load before you're not talking about a period of duration which would clearly outstrips the lifetime of the clothes-folding robot.


I would totally buy one. But not at that price.

A clothes washing and folding robot is highly desired.

But for $20,000, if the robot can also wash the dishes (not a dishwasher), vacuum the floor (not a Roomba), and do some light dusting.. then I’d buy that in a heartbeat.

I do not want to pay for maid service. I don’t really want people in my personal space, so I’d rather do everything myself, which means they never get done.


"I actually have more faith in solving self-driving before that"

Interesting. It seems obvious to me that self-driving is much harder. One reason that comes to mind is there is a lot more diversity in the environment while driving, and of the behavior of things you meet. Also, when a car gets confused it has more momentum, and is in traffic, so halting seems likely to be much harder.


> It also occurs to me that many people hang their cloth with hangers in closet instead of folding. Business proposition seems to be bit limited.

The logic does not follow in these two sentences. I hang my clothes instead of folding, because I am lazy. If a machine with a reasonable cost could do the folding for me, I would buy it, since folded clothes occupy much less space.


Lets remember that failure is an expected part of the game. Most ambitious product r&d projects fail quitely, inside big companies. Folding laundry is a famously hard problem.

Lets also remember that I really want a wardrobe that takes my dirty clothes and restocks itself with clean clothes.


I remember reading long ago that something like 70-90% of new startups are dead by the 7th year. It's not that big of a deal.

Edit: Small business rates are a bit better as startups require a bit more than just some revenue but some growth metrics. VC-backed companies fail at a pretty high rate (75% fail to return). https://fitsmallbusiness.com/small-business-failure-rates/


While a "AI-powered laundry-folding robot" company files for bankruptcy there's a guy making money selling onions on the internet.


The guy selling onions on the internet is not make a ton of money from it, though.


So?

A more useful question is whether he makes enough.

Growth-at-all-costs is toxic.


I really want to see his financials. He said that an unexpected $10K cost nearly ended the business and I got the sense from the article the margins are fairly slim after factoring everything in.


AFAIK that was at the very beginning of the venture, maybe financials are more stable now.


How do you make the backwards d in your username???

Long live usenet!


AI-powered laundry folding robot company.... folds! hah!


And Samsung Galaxy Fold doesn't.


I am literally creased up laughing.


I sometimes hold off washing my clothes for so long I end up wearing the same underwear two days in a row, then no underwear and very dirty socks, then no socks before I realize it's time to wind up the old washing machine. That's how much I hate washing. I wear every piece of clothing I have and at the end of a two month long washiless period I go to work looking a fool. And then after gaving washed my clothes I now have three hundred pair of socks to match! Nightmare!

SV, please try harder at creating a washing assistant. I need it yesterday!


Buy the same socks in batches. If they are all the same color/shade you won’t need to spend time matching socks. Dump them into a drawer, and every time you need two socks, you grab two, done.

You could also extend the not-washing period if you buy more clothes. The more you have, the longer until you run out of clothes to wear.


I thought i was doing this by only getting black socks. Now I have a drawer full of very subtly different black socks


Ha, same happened to me too! I have 3 or 4 batches of black socks. In the beginning, very easy, pick two, dress, get out.

A few time ago I realized, due to different materials or black ink, they degrade in different ways, so I have a few shades of black to choose from.

But still don't care :).


Just lean into this one and buy brightly colored and patterned socks instead.

That way, you're obviously always wearing mismatched socks, and it becomes an obviously deliberate (if eccentric) fashion choice instead of a repeated sartorial goof-up.

Also, you get to wear socks that are more fun.


This is a very useful hack. I'm gonna try it out.

Socks didn't use to be a fashion statement but they sort of are now. Mixed socks. Because, y'know, I don't care. I just don't care. I'm just me.

LOL, so corny. I'm not sure anymore that I'll be able to pull of mixed socks.


Wouldn't that just make your washing time much longer as you have a larger load to deal with? I have that problem where my two kids just brings their clothes out of their rooms in one instance. Takes forever to finish washing them.


Batching actually helps as long as you can fit things in the machine and on the clothesline or in dryer.

Not to mention being more power and water efficient.


I don't know about where you live, but in the UK we have launderettes that do service washes. You dump your clothes in bags, and dump those bags at the launderette and pay for them to wash and dry and fold your clothing. You can pay extra for ironing. You can provide your own detergents and softeners[1] or they can use theirs.

You have to be careful because some of them are a bit clumsy and will boil the clothing, or melt it in a too hot dryer.

[1] don't use fabric softeners.


Contrary to the name, softeners do not soften the fabric but water and add more ionic detergent plus some smell. You get a bit more efficient washing as long as you reduce amount of washing medium.

Oh, and they do impart negative charge to the fabrics making them seem fluffier.

Some softeners do have protective oil or silicone or polysorbate that will coat the fabric protecting it more. (Similar mechanism to hair rinse.) This actually will protect the fabric from some wear. These chemicals cannot really be added to washing detergent as it would counter its action.

Certain silly people say the thin coat will interfere with future washing. I recommend testing instead of silly assumptions. (The layer is nonstick and waterproof which means your clothes will get less dirty and it is easier to remove anything on them... So you can use less detergent, time, force and water later. C.f. impregnated vs nonimpregnated wool.)


> Some softeners do have protective oil or silicone or polysorbate that will coat the fabric

I thought they all had that. I really dislike fabric softeners in part because I dislike the perfume they use and in part because they tend to render everything some degree of waterproof (bad for towels, particularly).


Not all of them do, cheap ones have the ionic detergent only and impart little benefit.


There are such services in my part of the US, too. However, they're too expensive to easily justify.


You could also look at it from another angle - you are making your small contribution to the environment[0] :)

[0]: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/9/19/17800654/clothes-pla...


Turn the underwear inside out.


I feel like folding clothes in an approximately rectangular shape is the wrong approach. Rolling clothes into cylinders is potentially easier to design for, and it is pretty effective for storage too.


I recently started using Marie Kondo's method and I was thinking the same thing. Some combination of rollers and a big ducted fan/tube to blow air into the shirt beforehand. Maybe we should have a go at it. What are you doing this Saturday? ;)


I'm flying to Italy (un)fortunately... But I am actually interested in exploring this if you are ever in Berlin.


Joking aside, a truly admirable goal. My god it would help everyone alive.


I don't fold my clothes, and haven't in 20 years.

Which is to say, my clothes do not get folded by anyone. No one folde them for me, nor do I fold them myself.

You don't have to fold most clothing. You can just toss it all in a basket and let it be. Most cotton wrinkles will disappear after being worn for about 20 minutes. Movement, body heat and ambient humidity removes wrinkles automatically from a lot of clothing. So, basically wrinkles from the drier usually don't last beyond most morning commutes.

And then, of course, there's not giving a single fuck about useless minutia, like... fucking wrinkled clothes.


Wearing ironed clothes makes me feel much better compared to wearing wrinkled clothes. Sometimes the difference could be as huge as between a good day and bad day. So maybe luxury but not useless.


On the other hand, cotton clothes will make you look like a slob if they aren't ironed.


And here I thought I was the only one who felt this way.


Unfolded clothes take a larger storage space. True, if left undisturbed in the basket after coming out of the drier, wrinkles are minimal. The problem is when other people in the household paw through the laundry and compress it. Also, if you want to put the laundry in drawers, it gets compressed and wrinkles badly.


> Unfolded clothes take a larger storage space.

This is the only reason I fold my laundry.


Did you really have to create a new account to post this? Not folding clothes is not a solution.


It is a solution. And that's a pretty cool name, imo.


Even the manual feed robot from Foldimate would be a huge time save. Still insanely difficult, but would be absolutely amazing.


Would it save much time? I've never spent much time folding clothes, does it take people long? T-shirts take a few seconds, trousers similar, I guess buttoned shirts take a bit longer but wouldn't you want to hang those up?


Personally a machine that could iron and hang my shirts would save me a lot more time than a machine that could fold my t-shirts


truly a hard problem to solve.


At last modern fabrics don't require ironing anymore. You can put away a dryer's worth of clothes in less time than it takes to watch a quarter of an episode of Game of Thrones. It's really not that hard (for a human)

Industrial scale though ... but can AI really be cheaper than a skilled minimum wage professional? You know someone who has folded thousands of t-shirts and really gotten it down to an impressive speed.

Like this guy for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzivmWS6qak He folds a button-down shirt in 30 seconds. That's 120 shirts an hour ...


> At last modern fabrics don't require ironing anymore.

Would those "modern fabrics" be the ones using synthetic fibres that contribute thousands of plastic microparticles to the water each time they go through the wash?


I guess GP is talking about "poly cotton blends" rather than pure polyester or acrylic. But yes, poly-cotton blends do release microplastics.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/27/washing-clot...

> They found that acrylic was the worst offender, releasing nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash, five times more than polyester-cotton blend fabric, and nearly 1.5 times as many as polyester.

People have no idea how many fibres are released per kg of clothing. It can be a surprising amount.

https://www.naturvardsverket.se/Documents/publ-kompl/1003-10...

> From the results from the measurements, calculations were made to estimate the number of released microplastic particles. The release varied significantly between the different laundries. If the calculations were based on an assumed best-case scenario, between 5 000 and 4 550 000 of microplastic particles were released per kg of washed textile. If a worst-case scenario was assumed, between 15 000 and 5 375 000 microplastic particles were released per kg of washed textile.


This is very noticeable if you watch someone wash a fuzzy blanket bought from Walmart. It seems like half the blanket goes down the drain after the first wash.


I was talking about polycotton blends which seem to represent 99% of clothes you buy these days unless you're actively avoiding it.

I did not know they released microplastics.


Nice. There's a market for this technology in the sewing and commercial laundry industries. Fabric handling is a tough robotics problem, and progress is welcome. But for that, it will have to really work, every time.


...and it will have to work a lot faster than these machines.


Even priced at $2,000, it would have been hard to justify for home use.

Folding laundry just isn't that hard or time-consuming. The one situation where I could see such a machine being justifiable is if you have a lot of laundry to fold -- but the speed of the device would seem to rule it out as a solution for that use case.


Would it be easier to invent wrinkle free clothes than this robot?


Definitely... And much more useful, too.


Someone should make a solar powered washing machine that runs off the grid and doesn't need to be fed with a water supply (recycles its own water usage, use UV beams to kill germs) Only external inputs are detergant and sunlight, output is dirt and heat.


Why? Why have its own compact set of expensive recycling infrastructure and storage when you have the grid for that?


Recycling the water would actually be beneficial for our oceans[0].

[0]: https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/24/18513393/avengers-endgame...


> recycles its own water usage, use UV beams to kill germs

balloon the clothes up to the stratosphere, then let them sink in a lake


That is doable. The cloths we wear and send to wash are nowhere that dirty as it was 50 years ago. Some smart filter would actually recycle the water.

Power is a different thing, you could connect it to whatever eco-friendly source you have.


I like the ending

"It’s sad news for everyone involved, but maybe we don’t need an expensive Wi-Fi-connected machine to do our simple chores for us. After all, now we have Marie Kondo to teach us how to fold fitted sheets."


Marie Kondo's folding method is not the common way of doing it, the 3-way folding is not easy to master at first.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lpc5_1896ro

But yeah, 8 million views already.


I think I am congenitally unable to fold fitted sheets. I've tried every method I could find. In the end, I just decided to no longer use fitted sheets.


Why start with consumers?

Surely there are narrower goals to go for first (eg retail), nail them and then expand into consumer (super wealthy luxury first and work down)

Retail would be much easier to make a case for this: it could be shared across a whole store, the items would be known and someone could configure it company wide. Pricing the savings would also be simpler than for consumers, who either have to want it for their own convenience or have this service offered by existing on-site competitors mentioned by others already (cleaners, housekeepers etc)


There's a lot more money in replacing cooks, fruit pickers or amazon workers than there is in folding clothes.


I hate doing laundry. Switching to using a wash and fold service was one of the best decisions for improving the quality of my life. I pay $40 every couple weeks to get all my clothes washed and folded. I love robots, but they're not going to beat inexpensive skilled human labor anytime soon.


they thought 5 minutes to fold a shirt, that wasn't black, made for a viable product?


If you could throw a big bin in the night before and let it run, it could be viable on some level.


btw, the ironing is by far the worst aspect of dealing with laundry. Is folding even an issue?


Personally, I rarely need to iron anything. I have some fancy clothes I wear for fancy occasions, and they require ironing, but I only need them a few times a year.

The vast majority of my clothing doesn't really need to be ironed (even if it's not specifically "wrinkle free"). That's one of the criteria I use when I select my clothes.


the problem with this machine was that you have to setup the clothes properly within the machine for it to work. That defeats the whole purpose.

If you could just throw in a bunch of dirty clothes and let it do everything, that's a different story.


You mean it’s folded?


This fits into the category I saw a reporter describe as "Things 20 something engineers wish their mom still did for them."

Similar to juicero (spelling), Amazon proposal to deliver packages inside your house....etc.


> Amazon proposal to deliver packages inside your house

Wasn't this just to prevent assholes from stealing packages from your yard/door/...?


Yes. I believe they shifted to putting it in your car in driveway


Pretty much my experience, ups and FedEx at least put it on my porch where it is sort of hidden.

Amazon leaves it in plain sight on the driveway..... like guys no....


In my case the vast majority of amazon packages are ups, and most of the remaining are usps.

Also I live in an apartment and no porch/driveway, maybe that's why I dont lose packages :)


> I believe they shifted to putting it in your car in driveway

Huh? How is that supposed to help?

People aren't less likely to steal a package out of your car than out of your driveway.


Yes they are. Lack of package visibility, unclear accessiblity (vehicle locks), potential of car alarms, requirement for unlawful entry, increased likelihood of occupents associated with vehicle presence, expanded threat for forensic discovery, fear of spontaneous Tesla combustion and vehicle interiors that smell of soiled diapers and spoiled milk are the biggest deterrents.


> fear of spontaneous Tesla combustion

heh.


I'd be amazed if that was true. Even if the packages were visible from the road, surely the barrier of breaking into a possibly alarmed car is greater than just picking up a box from the floor.


I didn't say in driveway. I said in car.


That was the selling point.


I don't think it was a fundamentally bad idea, the problems are that their product doesn't work well enough and is too expensive.


The fundamental mistake they appear to have made was failing to research their market. Five minutes on Google would have shown them most clothing factories still use people to do the job they're trying to replace - that's in ideal conditions, completely controllable, and well-resourced ... and still the best solution is a person (with specialised tools).

They should have started by trying to replace that person. Make a $50,000 machine and sell it to businesses, then take what you learn doing that and make the home version.


I mean, that's the point, right? Getting rid of tedious work is a win. Every new task we automate liberates billions.

The lever on "things mum did for me" is long.


Have you had to the laundry for a house of 5 people? It's hours of work a week to put the clothes away, and it's mindless work to boot. It is parents of multiple children that would benefit the most from this, just like how they benefited from automated dishwashers and clothes washing machines.


I do the laundry for 4 people.

I wouldn't mind the product, I still think the product fits that category.


These damn entitled white males, inventing products to make the world more efficient.


You could say, someone lost their shirt on this one.


I would say ... they folded.


Can they make an AI robot that files for bankruptcy?


I dread laundry. Its one of signs you are still alive and soiling clothes.

Some males never do laundry their entire lives. Their mothers do it until they marry. Then their wives and daughters.


As a single male with extremely few material possessions, I'm one of those people that does my own laundry but never folds their clothes. I used to watch my mom fold our clothes when we were little and seemed like a waste of time. Seeing as I wear extremely casual clothes, this isn't a problem for me. If I wore more formal clothes, I would fold/hang those. I just leave my clothes in my basket and pick out what I need every morning. It seems to work well enough.


Try rolling your clothes instead of folding them. It's faster, and while it's not as wrinkle free as folding, it'll do the job just nicely for t-shirts and pants.


Aren’t your clothes wrinkled?


Yes, they are, but that doesn't bother me much and no one has ever commented on it. Heck, I've even worn shirts inside-out and people barely notice. They're probably too busy thinking about their own appearances...


People don't comment on it out of politeness, but they do notice. Then, consciously and unconsciously, they draw negative inferences about you. They might suspect that you are not well organized or that you are lazy. You are free to be unbothered by that fact, but their reaction to your appearance is outside your control. It is a slight headwind in your life that makes your interactions with people more difficult than they have to be.


Surround yourself with better, less shallow people.


When you find a planet filled instead with these "better, less shallow people", let us all know. Until then, we're stuck on this one, where the GP's observations are 100% correct.


If you actually try surrounding yourself with only people that will not see this, I think you will come out disappointed at the size of your social circle. Not to mention that you usually don't get to pick the people you work with. Lots of things in your life touch upon the lives of people that you can't select for. That means it will be inconvenient at some point when you look bad.


It's just marketing. For $50 and ten minutes a week for the local cleaners you can appeal to both. Why close off your market?


Everyone makes snap judgments based on first impressions—the best people are just more self-aware to be able to recognize this in themselves and counteract it.


One could argue that the people who notice are better people. Turning one's personal preferences into morality doesn't really help.


My quality of life improved when I started hanging almost all of my clothes, on coat hangers in the closet, and got rid of my dresser that required tedious weekly folding.

Almost everything is wrinkle-free, at least in my climate, if I hang it immediately out of the dryer. (I avoid clothes that need to air dry, given that I've been living in bedbug-prone old university neighborhoods with shared laundry machines.)

Socks get laid atop each other in a bin below (either the black pile or the white pile), and there's a second bin for other non-hangables for which wrinkling doesn't matter.

There's also no-iron dress shirts. I don't often need them lately, but I'm told Brooks Brothers has occasional great sales on good ones, if you do.

I don't use fabric softener, since there's research in the last few years suggesting that the VOCs are bad to be breathing.


> I don't use fabric softener

Fabric softeners are also pretty bad for the clothing, and may contribute to excess microplastic shedding.


I buy clothes from materials that don't wrinkle (and have other benefits). More costly, but worth it.


I always get poly blend shirts, so this isn't an issue. And with the ripstop cotton canvas shorts I usually wear, its not an issue either.


Men who can't do laundry - even more pathetic than men who can't cook.

If you can afford to pay for it, OK, but you should know how.


Every healthy person should be able to fulfill their basic needs. Have a job so they can afford to have a roof over their head and buy food, cook so they can feed themselves, and operate basic household equipments.

Gender roles splits those so that only one gender is responsible for any given need. It might have been a useful optimization method in the past but not now in modern society.


"Fluff and fold - the only way to live! I drop it off , I pick it up, it's a delight!"


I hope we soon see a world where laundry isn’t assumed to be gendered work. Nobody loves laundry but that’s why I wouldn’t want my partner to have to do it all...


When I was 9 or 10 my mother announced she wasn't doing my laundry any more. So I've been doing my own laundry for 45 years now.

Frankly the only thing that is slightly annoying in a boring sort of way is turning the shirts right side out.

It feels like the utopia our tech lords have is mind for us is one where we sit on the couch stuffing our faces 24/7 never having to leave the pod.


You won't need clothes in The Pod. The Sanitation and Nutrition Supplication Suit will take care of all your needs. All you need to do is relax and enjoy infinite stimulation.


Why bother turning the shirts right side out? You can do it directly before you put them on, and one at a time spread out over weeks always felt less tedious to me.


That's very lazy of you to perform that computation only at the very last moment before you need it. And I guess it saves you the time it would take you to fold a shirt you were never going to utilize anyway. Very good!

Do you have more hacks?


I think if I were less lazy I'd turn them right side out when tossing them in the hamper.


Washing inside-out is better (as in "extends the useful lifespan") for shirts with printing or embroidery on them.


There’s no need to make such a sexist statement. I have cleaned my own clothes since I was a child. My wife had never done the laundry until she moved in with me.


I didn't read it as sexist in itself. It wasn't advocating for a female bias in laundry work, it was highlighting that the female bias does still exist in some households.

I can contribute, like you have, that in my household the balance is different. This doesn't refute the observation, though.


>Some males never do laundry their entire lives. Their mothers do it until they marry. Then their wives and daughters.

Some women don't either. First their fathers then their husbands.

Kind of sad to see 1950s stereotypes not downvoted here.




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