It’s several years now since the introduction of the sewbot — a robot that can make clothes from start to finish. Sort of. The problem is, first, the nature of the material. Steel, wood, plastic, even paper can be cut and put in place and then trusted to remain the same shape and orientation. Fabric? Not so much. To make clothes, robots must lay multiple fabric shapes together and keep them in place relative to one another as the materials are connected. Human eyes and fingers can do it, but it’s a challenge for robots.
Not for sewbots, though. The LOWRY system developed with assistance from Walmart and DARPA uses a special camera to keep track of movement and distortion in fabric, making it possible not only to create T shirts from the first cut to the final quality inspection, but making it faster, too. A sewbot can create 17 shirts in the time it would take a human being operating an industrial sewing machine.
It’s all about the servos, of course. A four axis robotic arm and multiple linear actuators on a 360-degree conveyor system combine to replicate the movements of a human sewist.
So far, it’s also all about the T shirts. Sewbots can’t switch from jersey Ts to linen dress shirts or silk blouses, let alone take on dresses, jackets, or trousers.
Warehouses and retail
Once the clothes are made (and folded and packed by humans, of course), warehousing can be automated. Retail can, too. Makers of retail robots claim that retailers can use one robot for every three human sales associates, reducing labor costs significantly.
Retail robots can be programmed to pick items for shoppers, to check shelves of stock, and to send messages to cell phones when shoppers come in range.
Models have been on the threatened-by-automation list for some time now. Designers are bringing robots into their fashion shows along with models, too. Rag & Bone wowed Fashion Week with a giant robotic arm which took pictures and relayed them to big screens.
It’s probably fair to say that robots will be part of the fashion industry in the future, one way or another.