The pile of clean, crumpled laundry waiting hours to be put away is something we have all faced.

There are many machines that can wash and dry clothing. There's no way to automate the folding process.

Over the years, researchers have looked into it and found that robots aren't good at folding laundry.

Machines need clear rules in order to function, and it's difficult for them to figure out what's going on in those messy piles.

That doesn't mean that it's impossible. The process of folding a towel was taught to a robot by a University of California, Berkeley professor.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Silicon Valley-based company FoldiMate showed off a prototype of its laundry-folding robot. The machine could fold 25 pieces of laundry in less than 5 minutes, with an estimated price tag of $980.

The company's website is down and it hasn't posted a message in over a year. One of its competitors filed for bankruptcy.

Most of the machines have not been equipped for the job. A group of researchers from around the world say their new method could change that.

Two robotic arms are better than one

The new method is called speedFolding. It's a reliable and efficient bimanual system that's able to smooth and fold a crumpled garment in a record time.

SpeedFolding can fold 30 to 40 garments per hour, compared to previous models that folded three to six garments per hour. The robot can fold items in less than two minutes.

They say that the system can generalize to unseen garments of different color, shape, and rigidity.

You don't know how long it takes to get rid of your clothes. It takes about 20 minutes to fold an average load of laundry according to a dry cleaning company.

The team from UC Berkeley, Torsten Krger and Ken Goldberg, as well as the team from Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, will present their work at the conference.

Videos and data sets have been published online. One minute-long video posted to YouTube shows the robot using the two pincers at the end of its arms to fold a T-shirt and a towel, a process that involves scanning the object, lifting up the object and putting it back down.

The paper says that previous attempts at folding these items were focused on single-arm manipulation or complex iterative algorithms that took longer to complete.

A different approach is taken by SpeedFolding. The BiManual Manipulation Network studied 4,300 human and machine-assisted actions in order to learn how to fold garments. A number of defined movements can be involved in that process.

Ars Technica explains that the system needs to examine the initial state of the garment and calculate where to grab it with its two arms to get the garment to the next desired step.

The process is laid out by one of the researchers.

Does anyone enjoy folding laundry? Robots are often too slow; We’re presenting a paper @IROS2022 on how to speed up folding by an order of magnitude.

SpeedFolding uses novel perception and action primitives to fold 30-40 garments per hour.


— Yahav Avigal (@yahavigal) October 18, 2022

It's still a long way from your laundry room

SpeedFolding isn't likely to hit the market any time soon.

Ars Technica was able to track down a robot similar to the one they used and found it to be worth $58,000.

Researchers would like to explore methods that can learn to manipulate a novel garment given a few demonstrations.

The paper suggests that folding garment can be used in hospitals, homes and warehouses.

The researchers say that folding and packing are common tasks in textile manufacturing and logistics, industrial and household laundry, healthcare, and hospitality.

The work is mostly done by humans because of the complex configuration space and non- linear dynamics of the objects.

There is hope that the future of folding will be better.