In this inventor’s future, laundry is no chore
“Laundroid” robot was inspired by Kubrick film “2001”
Hate doing laundry? Shin Sakane has a solution.
The Japanese inventor received 6 billion yen ($53 million) from partners, including Panasonic Corp., last month to advance “the Laundroid” — a robot Sakane is developing to not only wash and dry garments, but also sort, fold and neatly arrange them. The refrigerator-size device eventually could fill the roles of washing machine, dryer and clothes drawer in people’s homes.
Sakane, whose earlier inventions include an antisnoring device and golf clubs made of space materials, said the funding will bring closer his dream of liberating humanity from laundry. Among his inspirations for the project is the 1968 Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” 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 45year-old Sakane, head of Seven Dreamers Laboratories Inc., said in an interview at his Tokyo office. “If we could automate this, the act of doing laundry will be gone for good.”
The funding brings total capital raised to 7.5 billion yen. Nomura Holdings Inc. has been hired for an initial public offering in the “not too distant future,” Sakane said, adding that Seven Dreamers Laboratories is currently valued at about 20 billion yen.
While the full product is slated for release in 2019, an early version that can only sort and fold clothing will go on sale in March.
Sakane wouldn’t disclose how 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,” 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 less than about 300,000 yen ($2,700). The model going on sale in March probably will cost significantly more due to higher initial production costs. Panasonic is slated to handle the manufacturing.
Users will still have to do some tasks, such as partially buttoning shirts, ensuring clothes aren’t inside out, and bunching socks before putting them inside the machine. That’s because even the best machinelearning applications can’t figure out how to fold a pair of socks.
Each item takes about 10 minutes to fold, which Sakane attributed to the time necessary to scan each part of the clothing and communicate via Wi-Fi with a central server. He is working to get it down to 3-to-5 minutes, but said the robot was designed to be used passively while users are doing something else or out of the house.
Sakane isn’t the only one trying to reinvent the washing. FoldiMate Inc., an Oak Park, Calif.-based rival, said it will take about half a minute to de-wrinkle and fold each garment through its dryer-size machine. It will require users to clip clothes onto a conveyor-belt from which a robot takes, treats, de-wrinkles and folds each item onto a neat pile.
The company will start accepting pre-orders in 2017. The first units should ship by 2018 and cost $700 to $850.
Apple plans to use drones and new indoor navigation features to improve its Maps service and catch longtime leader Google, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based company is assembling a team of robotics and data-collection experts that will use drones to capture and update map information faster than its existing fleet of camera-andsensor ladened minivans, one of the people said.
Apple wants to fly drones to do things like examine street signs, track changes to roads and monitor if areas are under construction, the person said. The data collected would be sent to Apple teams that rapidly update the Maps app to provide fresh information to users, the person added.
Apple is also developing new features for Maps, including views inside buildings and improvements to car navigation, another person familiar with the efforts said. The people asked not to be identified. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.
Five years after Google Maps launched on the iPhone, Apple’s mapping app was introduced in 2012 with glaring errors like a grocery store marked as a hospital and an incorrect airport address. Apple lacked the technology needed to quickly suck in data from many different sources to evaluate and change the digital maps.
“There’s a huge data-quality issue there, and I don’t think we initially appreciated all the kinds of technology we would need to do that on an ongoing basis,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, told Fast Company earlier this year.
Digital maps are crucial tools for Apple and Google to attract developers that build popular travel, ridesharing, and retail apps and services that integrate with the companies’ mobile operating systems.
Since Apple Maps launched, the company has improved the app by more quickly updating data, adding a mode for navigating public transit systems, improving search results, and opening the platform to outside services such as Uber ride-hailing and OpenTable restaurant reservations.
Beyond better data collection, Apple is developing an indoor mapping view that would allow users to navigate airports, and other hightraffic buildings like museums using iPhones, according to another person.