Dan Rattiner's Stories

Robots Ascendant: They Will Fold the Laundry, Drive Taxis, Talk to You and More

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, two companies introduced machines that will fold your laundry after they’ve finished going through your washer and dryer. The companies will compete with one another to capture the huge market of family members who, they claim, have to, ugh, fold the laundry themselves.

The FoldiMate is being developed in Israel by an American firm and will be available for pre-order this fall. It’s about the size of a large desktop printer and sits on a table in your laundry room. It weighs about 70 pounds. As you take your clean clothes out of the dryer, you smooth them and clip them on metal beams high up on the front of the machine. Could be a shirt, a pajama top, a pair of pants, a t-shirt. You can hang as many as 20 items at a time. Think of it as putting your clothes on a clothesline. Then you turn it on. Immediately, two robot hands reach out and, one at a time, unclip a garment and stuff it into a slot.

Inside, the FoldiMate’s computer identifies what it is, stretches it out on a board and in 10 seconds has folded it neatly and perfectly. Optionally, it can spend 20 seconds steaming the item to remove wrinkles before it’s dropped, all folded up, into a stack inside. When that item is done, the robot hands go out to get the next item. When the stack is as high as it can go, a light flashes telling you it’s FULL. Then you press a button and a tray, like a giant tongue, comes out with all your laundry neatly folded on it. Remove your folded laundry, the tongue retracts and the machine’s front waits for the next group of clean, wrinkled clothing to be hung. It can do a load of laundry in about three minutes. But it can’t do socks or beach towels. Expected price? About $800.

The second clothes folder is called a Laundroid, which is being developed by a company in Japan. It’s much larger, about the same size as a washer or dryer. You dump the clothes right out of the dryer and into a bin atop the Laundroid, which sits on the floor.

The Laundroid has an arm inside that has a claw on the end. The arm fishes around in there and grabs onto an item. Could be the middle of a shirt or the end of a pants leg or a corner of a blouse. A computer then does an analysis to decide what it has. Every Laundroid sold is linked to a master computer in Japan, so as it does its analysis in a team effort, it gets smarter and smarter about what its holding. Could be a brassiere. Could be exercise pants. It takes about 10 minutes to identify what it has, and when it does, it takes another two minutes to fold. It also does not do socks.

The Laundroid is relatively slow and can take up to a full day to identify and fold one load of laundry this way. But there are investors who have faith in the Laundroid. Among them reportedly are Henry Kravis of KKR. He and his partner George Roberts have invested $90 million of their own money this way.

Almost on the same day I read about this, I read an article in The New York Times that reported Walmart getting a patent on a method to enable drones to transport products inside its stores. They’ve already begun using drones to transfer products in Walmart warehouses.

Yes, we are well on our way to becoming a nation where robots do all the work. We just press a button and sit around. Or run around. So many people are already not doing physical work. You see them on the streets, running in their spandex workout clothes, striding along and adding up the miles to keep their bodies limber and strong. Often when they finish running, they shower and go to a gym.

It’s a completely unique phenomenon, people working out like this. No other culture does this that I know. The people in other cultures milk cows, work in factories, carry the water, build the fires and hunt or fish for the day’s kill—fish, birds or animals—so others can cook up a healthy meal. At night, tired, they get a good night’s sleep. They do not count the miles they run from one place to another for no reason.

Donald Trump is on a campaign to get everybody back to work. But it’s said the loss of jobs on the assembly lines is not due to immigrants, it is due to robots. And there will be more robots. And more robots.

I submit that the real problem in America in the future is to find fun things for people to do that do not involve work.

I call your attention to the Woody Allen movie Sleeper. It was made in 1973, nearly a half-century ago, and it seems to me to offer a remarkably accurate prophesy about the future. Allen plays the part of the owner of a health food store in New York City who winds up being cryogenically frozen. He wakes up well into the future.

Nobody works. Everybody just hangs around doing nothing. They play guitar, go to plays, eat delicious meals prepared and served by robots, spray on or peel off fashionable and colorful clothes to show off their toned bodies to their friends. They go to parties, paint, write poetry, travel in automobiles that glide along under the control of robots, discuss philosophy and ethics, drink and smoke and, alone, go into these little metal booths in the corner of the living room every once in a while, where they enjoy a delicious sexual experience (never explained). It takes about 30 seconds, the lights flash, the booth rumbles and bounces, the person inside emits cries of pleasure and, after 30 seconds, it’s over. The door opens and the occupant staggers out, takes a deep breath and says, “that was wonderful.”

Yes, a few people do work. But it’s just an hour or two a day. For example, there’s a vegetable farmer. He has only one field, but the carrots and tomatoes and asparagus are the size of school busses so one carrot, for example can feed hundreds of people. Woody Allen tries to steal a carrot. He’s dragging it along. It’s a very funny movie.

That’s the future, folks. And nobody should be ashamed of it, jealous of it, or fearful of it.

Send your self-drive car down to Office Max, buy yourself a new clothes folder, have a drone pick it up in the store and drop it through the sunroof of the robot’s car, who then drives it to your house where a domestic robot hooks it up by the washer and dryer.

Meanwhile you and your friends can be discussing a book everyone’s been reading that’s all the rage.

I think that in the future, the job of our government should not be putting more people back to work putting bottle caps on Coca-Cola bottles in an assembly line. Instead, the goal should be to provide amusing hilarious, challenging, fun things to do while not working.

To end this article, I refer you to the Michael Moore documentary, Where To Invade Next. Moore and his video crew go from one country to another in Europe, where they encounter various people hardly working and leading full lives. A chef at a public elementary school in Paris prepares gourmet meals for the kids. The workers in a company that makes living-room furniture are on vacation in an Italian resort, their vacations happily paid for by the owners, who are now almost entirely employing robots to do much of the work. Some of the profits go to the employees. And why not?

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