Clothes will sew themselves in DARPA’s sweat-free sweatshops

June 11, 2012

Soldiers might one day live in a world where sewing machines work without human effort (credit: U.S. Army)

DARPA has awarded $1.25 million to fully automate the sewing process, Wired Danger Room reports.

One 2010 estimate put the military’s annual clothing budget at $4 billion dollars.

SoftWear Automation Inc., has so far developed “a conceptual” version of the automated system. According to its website, it is a robotic system that relies on an extremely precise monitoring of a given fabric’s “thread count” to move it through a sewing machine in the proper direction and at the right pace.

Dr. Steve Dickerson, the company CEO and a robotics and engineering researcher, along with co-authors from Georgia Tech, elaborated on his robo-tailoring science in a 2010 paper, presented at a robotics conference in Tokyo.

First, an “overhead, pick-and-place robot” grabs the necessary pieces of fabric and places them at the head of a sewing machine. The appliance itself would be equipped with “machine vision” capabilities, specific enough to spot and track individual fabric threads to “provide fabric location information” to actuators that operate the sewing machine’s needle and thread, and “budgers” — motorized balls, underneath the sewing machine that latch onto the fabric via vacuum seal — that move the material to and fro.

According to the company, automated sewing “appears to allow cutting and sewing at costs less than in China.”

Not to mention far fewer allegations of human rights violations. An estimated 50,000 workers are employed by contractors producing military garb, many of them earning “[wages] below the poverty line [and] the median sewing wage in the industry,” according to a 2010 report from The American Prospect.

Of course, it could also mean the decimation of jobs worldwide, as well as dubiously constructed garments.