Skip the Tedious Process of Folding Clothes with This Innovative Robot

A team of mechanical engineering students created a device that automatically folds shirts for increased levels of convenience.

Motivation for the robot

It is hard to imagine anyone that enjoys the tedious process of folding clothes, especially when the task is done so that the articles of clothing appear like those on display in a store. Driven by a mix of a need for efficiency, organization, and even a bit of laziness, a team of college students studying mechanical engineering (Pietro Oppici, Corentin Vandebroek, Stefano Pontoglio, and Quentin Bertieaux) set out to create a robot that could automatically fold clothes in exactly the right way while doing it quickly. The process would go as follows: someone drops a shirt onto the surface and lays it out, the robot detects which kind of shirt it is, and finally, it's folded and then slid into a bag or basket below.

A bit of research

The first step in this journey was figuring out what the precise requirements needed to be. In terms of audience, the team aimed for this project to be used by nearly anyone who wishes to do their laundry just a bit faster. They determined that the t-shirt's type, such as short or long-sleeved, would need a mechanism for being detected. The machine would also have the ability to to remove the shirt by itself and then stow away for easy storage. After researching patents that already exist for some inspiration, they came across a machine which uses a set of rollers and moving panels to manipulate articles of clothing, so that became the base for their design.

Constructing the frame

General ideas in hand, the student team then moved onto the next step of creating a more concrete implementation which could accomplish their stated goals. Because the robot needed to be lightweight, they chose 6mm-thick sheets of birch plywood for the base and 3mm MDF for the movable panels due to their ease of fabrication via lasercutting. Other parts were printed from PLA plastic, including the hinges, pulleys, and supports/mounts.

Electronic components

An Arduino Uno was selected as the team's desired microcontroller due to its simplicity and amount of GPIO pins. After some calculations for finding the required levels of torque required to move the panels within the necessary speeds needed, they went with a pair of two smaller NEMA17 42A02C stepper motors for the lateral sides, a servo for the middle section, and larger NEMA17 motors for the remaining hinges. A set of five DRV8825 drivers were used to take the incoming 12V power and deliver it to the motors based on the Uno's signals.

Making it move

Once assembled, the students moved onto programming their shirt-folding robot. The code begins by reading from two of the onboard photoresistors and determines the type of shirt from their values. If the first sensor detects a sleeve, the machine gets configured to fold the very outside panels before any others, and then the rest of the panels move in a predetermined sequence to fold the shirt the rest of the way. At the end of the process, the trapdoor is opened so that the t-shirt can slide out into a pile waiting below.

Attempting to fold some t-shirts

As seen in the team's demo video for their project, the robot folded a t-shirt just as they intended, although getting it to release from the trapdoor proved to be a bit problematic. To read about their design in much more detail, you can visit the project's writeup here on Instructables.

Arduino “having11” Guy
20 year-old IoT and embedded systems enthusiast. Also produce content for Hackster.io and love working on projects and sharing knowledge.
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