"Imagine handing over your laundry to a friend who folds it for you" is the rather deft way in which FoldiMate describes the benefits of its robotic clothes folding machine. The firm says its device can cut in half the time spent on the laborious task of clothes folding, albeit for a rather hefty outlay.
FoldiMate was set up in 2012 and ran an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign the following year to develop what was, at the time, a prototypical version of its idea. A further three years of development have turned the FoldiMate into a refined 28 x 32 x 31-in (71 x 81 x 79-cm) version that can dewrinkle, treat and fold most items of laundry. That's about washer-sized and it's designed to be stacked on top of a washer or dryer.
The FoldiMate Family, as the first commercially available version is called, is designed to minimize folding hassle in the home. Rather than folding each item of freshly washed clothing in turn and with varying degrees of quality, the user simply clips 15-20 items of onto the front of the machine. The FoldiMate then takes them in one at a time and ultimately outputs a pile of neatly and uniformly folded laundry on a pull-out tray, which has a capacity of up to 10-30 items depending on thickness.
To fold the items, the machine moves a set of internal components in a series of preprogrammed movements. Each item is laid flat on a platform inside the FoldiMate Family. Two bars are then lowered onto the item (one on either side) to hold it in place and to act as pivots over which parts of the laundry item are folded. Items are folded to a default size of 9 x 11 in (23 x 28 cm), although this is adjustable. All items are folded in the same way, although different folding styles will be available to buy from FoldiMate's online store.
The dewrinkling process is said to reduce any wrinkles on items, but won't replace ironing. As such, if you want impeccably pressed shirts, you're still going to have to get the iron out prior to loading into the machine. The treatment process, meanwhile, will perfume, soften and sanitize laundry items during the folding process.
FoldiMate says it takes less than 5 seconds to clip an item into place, around 20-30 seconds for dewrinkling and 10 seconds for the folding process. It says it hasn't found a lot of people who can fold laundry as fast and with as consistent quality as the time taken to clip items in place, which is the main active role that the user plays in the process.
Most types of laundry can reportedly be folded with the FoldiMate Family, including shirts, pants, towels and pillowcases, but it won't fold large items like bed linen or small items like underwear or socks. The device runs on 110-V or 220-V power and FoldiMate says it's quieter than the average a washer or dryer and that there's less than a 1 percent chance of clothes being damaged.
There's no final price set for the FoldiMate Family yet, but the target price is around US$700-$850. It has to be said that seems pretty steep, although we guess it depends how much you hate folding clothes. But the initial outlay may only be a fraction of what buyers end up paying.
The dewrinkling and treatment options, the latter including perfuming, softening and sanitization, will be sold separately. The steam capability for dewrinkling will cost around $200-$300 and the treatment capsules around $15-$40, although it's not clear for how many.
FoldiMate says it plans to start accepting pre-orders for the Family in 2017 and expects to ship the first units by 2018. It will be made available to the areas of the world in which it is most in demand first, but the company intends to make the machine available everywhere. A professional model is also planned.
The video below shows the FoldiMate in action.