Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No. 0054 - Self Folding Clothes

I tell my friends all the time that to be an engineer is really a sick way of being lazy; "sick" as in we work really hard to come up with ideas and gadgets that would allow us all to be lazier. I think the invention of the Segway is the perfect example. I'm sure numerous engineers have spent countless hours in researching and developing this technology, but to what cause? To substitute one of the most basic function of our everyday lives - walking.

I'm going to explore this laziness a little further. I personally hate folding clothes after laundry. I've always thought that whoever invented the washer and dryer, why couldn't have they just gone the extra mile and invent a clothes folder. Here is my invention, and it all boils down to one key technology that has been around for a long time - the answer is shape memory alloy or SMA. SMA is a material that you can deform in any manner you want, but upon applying heat or electrical current, the metal will automatically return to its original shape. The last time I learned about this technology, people were thinking about developing artificial limbs with this material because they mimic the function of muscle cells so much.

Here is how I would use this material in clothes. Imagine a t-shirt with SMA strands along all the crease line. With all the strands hooked up to a tiny permanent connector on the shirt, all you would need to do is plug the shirt in and it would fold itself. Better yet, if we use the heat sensitivity SMA, then all we would need to do is throw the clothes into the dryer and they will come out folded. How cool is that? I actually did some youtube research before I wrote this blog and guess what? People have already integrated heat SMA with textile, see