Just dump laundry for robot to wash, dry, sort and fold

Inventor Shin Sakane with the Laundroid. If all goes to plan, he says, "the act of doing laundry will be gone for good".
Inventor Shin Sakane with the Laundroid. If all goes to plan, he says, "the act of doing laundry will be gone for good".PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO • Hate doing laundry? Mr Shin Sakane has a solution.

The Japanese inventor received 6 billion yen (S$75 million) from partners, including Panasonic, last month to advance "the Laundroid" - a robot that Mr Sakane is developing to not only wash and dry garments, but also sort, fold and neatly arrange them.

The refrigerator-size device could eventually fill the roles of washing machine, dryer and clothes drawer in homes.

Mr Sakane, whose earlier inventions include an anti-snoring device and golf clubs made of space materials, said the funding would bring closer his dream of liberating humanity from doing the laundry.

Among his inspirations for the project is the 1968 Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Laundroid was designed to resemble the mysterious objects in the film that brought technology to prehistoric humans, and the project was originally codenamed "Monolith".

"That's what we had in mind: a technology that never existed on Earth descends from space," the 45-year-old Mr Sakane, head of Seven Dreamers Laboratories, said in an interview at his Tokyo office. "If we could automate this, the act of doing laundry will be gone for good."

While the full product is slated for release in 2019, an early version that can only sort and fold clothing will go on sale worldwide in March.

Mr Sakane would not reveal how the Laundroid works, but patents show that users dump clothes in a lower drawer and robotic arms grab each item as scanners look for features such as buttons or a collar. Once identified, the clothes are folded using sliding plates and neatly stacked on upper shelves for collection.

"We tried so many things and none of them worked," Mr Sakane said. "A ton of team members quit, saying it's impossible or that I'm crazy. But the ones who remained came up with some truly brilliant ideas."

The goal is to eventually get the price of the full version to below 300,000 yen. The model that goes on sale in March will probably cost significantly more due to the initial production costs.

Mr Sakane is not the only one trying to reinvent washing. FoldiMate, a California-based rival, said it would take about half a minute to de-wrinkle and fold each garment through its dryer- size machine.

Its first units should ship by 2018 and cost US$700 (S$996) to US$850.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2016, with the headline 'Just dump laundry for robot to wash, dry, sort and fold'. Print Edition | Subscribe