In the July 13, 2006 print edition of the Economist, I found an article called Closing the circle: Automated tailoring comes closer. The article mentioned a collaborative effort known as Project Leapfrog. The goal of Project Leapfrog can be described as an effort to automate sewing, replacing human operators entirely. According to the article, the first goal has been to figure out ways to hold and manipulate fabric without damaging it (one would hope a second goal would be handling it so it is sewn correctly). Toward that end…
Dr Molfino is trying three approaches. The first is straightforward: vacuum suction pads. The other two are more unusual. One employs a thermoelectric phenomenon, called the Peltier effect, to cool the graspers handling the cloth (and thus the cloth itself) well below zero by passing current through them. Cooling cloth this way makes it more rigid and easier to control…[the] second unusual approach involves flat surfaces that grasp the fabric they are manipulating much as geckos stick to ceilings. Geckos’ feet are covered with microscopic hair-like projections that stick electrostatically to anything they touch. Dr Molfino plans to employ the technology used to etch computer chips to create similar surfaces on her graspers.
The article goes on to say that once the fabric handling problem has been solved, the next problem to solve is how “to sew it into the right shape”. Apparently, Dr Molfino thinks the fabric pieces can be vacuum attached to a mannequin -that will change size and shape according to the garment being made- and garments will be sewn with “robotic sewing arms buzz around stitching the pieces together, much like the spot-welding machines found in car factories”.
Robotic sewing arms buzzing around a vacuum expandable mannequin like spot-welding machines in car factories? This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard of. Assuming it were ever possible to make something as simple as a modified tee shirt -something that didn’t need stitching, turning and then stitching again- on a vacuum powered dress form, just how would this represent sufficient cost savings to justify its development? I don’t see it.
It seems like a real big waste of money to me. I went and looked at who all was involved in Project Leapfrog and it’s a very intimidating list of people who are a whole heckuva lot better educated than me, to say nothing of having more money but good grief, I think this whole thing is a waste of money. I can’t figure out why they’d spend the money. Even if it were possible, I don’t see how they’d ever get their money back. And assuming it really were possible, that would mean we’d have to start designing specific to the equipment. You know, teaching to the test? Clothes would look more templated than ever. You wouldn’t be able to do any kind of variation in design; it’d be out of tolerance for the machine; you’d have to match the parameters. Can you imagine one of these things even sewing something simple like a skirt gathered into a waistband with a set zipper? A pre-gathered skirt plastered to a vacuum packed dummy? Just how will those robotic arms apply the peltiered piece in even proportions to gather it up?
The emperor is wearing no clothes. It really irritates me when money is wasted on useless projects like this. They could be feeding starving children instead. Or am I the one who’s nuts?