Robotic origami and laundry folding

Project leads: Devin Balkcom, Matthew Bell
Funding: NSF CAREER (Balkcom)

We have built and programmed devices to fold cloth and paper, and proven results about how many hands are needed to completely immobilize a section of cloth so that it can be folded. The video below (Matt Bell, 2008) shows an industrial robot folding a t-shirt; the idea for the device is based on the very fun Japanese t-shirt folding video (second video).

Grasping cloth. Folding a flag usually requires two soldiers, since rectangular flags have four corners, all of which must be grasped to hold the flag rigid. But what if the flag (like the flag of Nepal) is not rectangular? Using ideas inspired by the proof of the art gallery theorem, [Bell2010] shows that a planar, unstretchable cloth polygon can always be immobilized by grasping all of the convex corners, and no more than one third of the concave vertices. Shapes like the one to the right in fact require this many grasp locations.

Robot origami folding. Our most recent work is described in [Balkcom2008], and includes an analysis of how origami with networks of creases can be modelled as a kinematic structure. [Balkcom2006c] showed that simple paper shopping bags cannot be folded using only the creases in the bag -- the bag must flex or bend in order to be folded. A recent paper paper by Weina Wu and Zhong You in the proceedings of The Royal Society follows up on the problem of folding shopping bags.