The Japanese laundry folding robot is dead – but the dream lives on

Anyone who wants to buy the Foldimate laundry robot will need to have room for a fridge-sized printer in their living room, like this family. — Foldimate/dpa

The ability to fold a shirt is still something that makes you uniquely human – for now.

That's because the Laundroid, the famed laundry folding robot from Japan, is officially dead, and with it our hopes for a new breed of machine that could one day fold all our laundry for us.

At one point it seemed inevitable that smart laundry helpers would soon be taking their place alongside robot vacuum cleaners and intelligent lights in modern, high-tech homes.

But now Seven Dreamers Laboratories, the Japanese robotics start-up known for its laundry folding robot prototypes that amazed the public at tech fairs, has filed for bankruptcy at the Tokyo District Court.

Folding a shirt is still too hard a task for a robot to learn, and the AI-powered device has come to an abrupt end before ever being able to come to grips with laundry.

"As the cash-flow problems have become worse, the prospect of our company's business operation is nowhere in sight," company president Shinichi Sakane said, announcing the end of operations, five years after the company was founded in 2014.

The laundry-folding robot was still being developed, and although the company continued to sound optimistic, the robot never even learned how to properly fold clothes, as it continued to struggle with the task.

Beyond its inability to fulfil its main purpose, the robot was also impractically large, measuring around the same size as a fridge.

"We would like to extend our sincere apology to stakeholders, customers, partner companies and those involved, for causing much trouble," Sakane said.

The company, which had received more than 10 billion yen (RM370.81mil) in funding, had seemed like a promising tech company after winning the Japan round of the 2018 Startup World Cup.

However, its US counterpart has not yet given up on finding a high-tech solution to folding laundry.

It's not clear if the rival Foldimate is up to the complex task of folding laundry, a tricky process that requires AI to work out exactly what kind of item of clothing is being folded. But its developers in California say they are still aiming for a 2019 launch.

When released, the Foldimate is set to cost around US$980 (RM4,051), and anyone who wants to buy it will need to have room for a fridge-sized printer in their home. – dpa
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