Researchers from the MIT Personal Robots Group recently unveiled tiny wearable “Zipperbots,” which can automatically track, open, and seal fabric edges with great application potential for future intelligent clothing design.
Although it doesn’t sound like much of a feat for a robot to be able to operate zippers autonomously, to accomplish such actually requires sophisticated computer vision (for the robot to recognize and track the rails of a zipper) as well as the mobility to navigate through sheets of soft, deformable textiles, a complex three-dimensional space in itself—without getting lost or stuck in the process.
According to the demo video, as of now, the Zipperbot can already perform tasks both independently (called “basic pattern self-assembly”) and cooperatively among multiple models (“coordinated movement”). Namely, the robot can assemble a piece of cloth into a 3D shirtsleeve single-handedly, or manage more complex missions by working with other Zipperbots.
While the current size and agility of Zipperbots still leave room for improvement (for one, right now it’s still way too large to conceal in ordinary clothing), it can have large impact on the fashion, health, and the defense industries. Disabled people who are unable to dress themselves can expect to enjoy self-sufficient lives with its aid; specialists working in hazardous environment—such as chemical plants workers or astronauts in the outer space—can also put on their suits without the risks to come into physical contact with the surfaces of the fabric.
Just like the inventions of Velcro and zipper themselves, sometimes it only takes a clever small invention to change the world.