DARPA issues robot challenge to clothing imports

Jun 10, 2012 by Nancy Owano report

(Phys.org) -- Sewing machines that sew by themselves are on the research boards at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). When concept becomes real, automated sewing without the need for human labor might raise concerns about lost jobs. The advent of automated sewing machines will also affect talk about garment-production conditions and wage levels for some 500,000 workers employed by contractors to make military uniforms. Overall, automated sewing machines might even reinvent clothing production in the U.S, which imports about $100 billion worth of clothes and sewn items each year from countries including China and Vietnam.

The stated goal of the agency is for “complete production facilities that produce garments with zero direct labor.”

On June 5, ’s contract award announcement was made, of $1.25 million to a Georgia Tech spinoff, Softwear Automation. The company believes automated sewing would allow cutting and sewing at costs “less than in .” The company is on a mission to develop what is termed by the DARPA notice as “Automatic Sewing of Garments Using Micro-Manipulation.”

The notice synopsis says that “Softwear Automation will develop a complete work-cell called a Beta Unit. That includes a numerically controlled sewing machine that tracks fabric movement by observing passing threads and under servo control moves the fabric under the needle stitch by stitch.”

SoftWear Automation has so far developed “a conceptual” version of the system. A note appears on the Softwear Automation site to say that this is a site only for development. "SoftWear Automation, Inc. working with various partners intends to convert a labor-intensive industry to one that is capital-intensive.”

The company says an innovation required is that the metric of motion is not meters or inches but rather thread count in the fill and warp directions. An overhead, pick-and-place robot grabs the fabric pieces and places them at the head of a sewing machine. The system relies on a precise monitoring of a fabric’s thread count to move it through a sewing machine in the proper direction and at the right pace.

In this concept, the device has machine-vision capabilities that can spot and track individual fabric threads. Fabric location information in turn goes to actuators that operate the needle and thread. Budgers, or motorized balls, under the sewing machine latch on to the fabric, moving the to and fro.

Steve Dickerson, the company CEO, has expressed concern that the fabrication of sewn items is a business that has almost entirely disappeared from the United States. He and members of his research team have been working on “robo-tailoring” for some time, hoping to advance the technology.

Explore further: Reflected smartphone transmissions enable gesture control

More information: smartech.gatech.edu/xmlui/bits… inalv.pdf?sequence=3
www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/06/darpa-sweatshop/

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User comments : 16

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Lurker2358
2.7 / 5 (14) Jun 10, 2012
[quote]When concept becomes real, automated sewing without the need for human labor might raise concerns about lost jobs.[/quote]

That's the whole point of automation, fools; to reduce human labor and increase human standards of living.

The problem is not in the automation itself, but rather an economic system which gives the majority of benefits to one person or a small group of elites. This system must be abolished eventually.

Neither capitalism nor communism solves man's problems, but total automation along with nano-technology has the potential to make life far easier both for individuals, nation-states, and the world as a whole.
Shakescene21
3 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2012
The US once had over a million workers employed in manufacturing apparel. Globalization has resulted in the shift of nearly all these jobs overseas. I'm sure that DARPA will eventually develop a robotic system that will be able to sew more cheaply than Third-World sweatshops. That should cause some of the lost manufacturing to return to the USA, but there will be relatively few US manufacturing jobs in these robotic factories. But from DARPA's national defense perspective it will be valuable to have more of America's materiel needs satisfied by US production facilities.
CapitalismPrevails
2.3 / 5 (9) Jun 10, 2012
When concept becomes real, automated sewing without the need for human labor might raise concerns about lost jobs.

False, capitalism is evolution. Yes, sewing jobs will be lost which will lower the cost of clothes so consumers will have more money to pay for something else. And that something else will have more demand and therefor will require more jobs to satisfy demand. We evolved from horse and buggy to automobile and typewriter to computer by letting the markets work. People had to change jobs but ultimately productivity increased which lead to elevating the human condition. The laborers in the sewing profession are going to gain skills in different trade with higher demand.
Terriva
1.4 / 5 (9) Jun 10, 2012
The problem is not in the automation itself, but rather an economic system which gives the majority of benefits to one person or a small group of elites. This system must be abolished eventually.
This is the main problem of the adoption of cold fusion findings too: it would replace many jobs both in industry, both in research of alternative methods of energy production, conversion, transport and or storage. The result is, all the new findings are adopted only with such speed, which the released jobs could be adsorbed in another industrial/research areas - and not any faster. At the case of cold fusion this mechanism is particularly apparent, as it affects the research job places predominately. The researchers hesitate to work on it, because they would compete many other researchers immediately and they would met with hostile reactions from the community of another physicists.
Markmj
2 / 5 (4) Jun 10, 2012
[quote]When concept becomes real, automated sewing without the need for human labor might raise concerns about lost jobs.[/quote]

That's the whole point of automation, fools; to reduce human labor and increase human standards of living.

The problem is not in the automation itself, but rather an economic system which gives the majority of benefits to one person or a small group of elites. This system must be abolished eventually.

Neither capitalism nor communism solves man's problems, but total automation along with nano-technology has the potential to make life far easier both for individuals, nation-states, and the world as a whole.

Best comment!
Styyxx
5 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2012
Good comment Lurker. It seems logical that if most forms of menial labor get replaced with automation over time, the majority of the population will have fewer and fewer opportunities to become "successful" and competition will become more... menacing? The current financial and economic system will have to change dramatically, (ie ~~ star trek/zeitgeist), or the current paradigm will serve to place a "cap" on the population via the old school survival of the fittest...

Just a thought.
SatanLover
0.6 / 5 (27) Jun 10, 2012
Socialism FTW. Viva la Che Guevara
randith
1 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2012
The problem is not in the automation itself, but rather an economic system which gives the majority of benefits to one person or a small group of elites. This system must be abolished eventually.


A big reason the rich are growing richer in the U.S. is because people are given equality of opportunity. Those who have talents naturally outperform those who do not. Thus, as equality of opportunity increases, equality of outcome decreases (i.e., becomes more widely spread).

EXAMPLE: Internet startups. Talented people who are given equality of opportunity through computers and the internet build successful products and become extremely wealthy. Then there's the other folks on the internet who have the same opportunity but not the talent; we don't get rich.
randith
3 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2012
Styyxx said:
It seems logical that if most forms of menial labor get replaced with automation over time, the majority of the population will have fewer and fewer opportunities to become "successful"


Your premise (if I understand you correctly) is that increasing technology will (eventually) increase long-term unemployment.

This point of view has been around since the industrial revolution (look up the Luddites). Some Phys.org posters also seem to think this.

However, there's certainly no precedent to make us think this could happen. People will probably still be predicting things like this 1,000 years from now.
Deadbolt
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2012
Full automation just means we would live in a machine supported welfare state. Fine by me! It's what the people will demand by that point, anyway. We'll be free to do whatever we choose each day. Freedom from wage slavery!

Of course, we have to get there first, and right now, people need jobs to survive...
bottomlesssoul
5 / 5 (3) Jun 10, 2012
To the lost jobs crowd, read you history about the loom. A thousand years ago already jealous neighbors would attack a productive farm house because they used more 'modern' technology making cloth at half the price. You're putting us out of work they cried; they took our jobs!
trekgeek1
not rated yet Jun 10, 2012
A clothing store should consist of you walking in, having holographic projections of clothes put on you, then when you select which garments you want, strip naked, get scanned by lasers and have your garment custom made right there by robots in 10 or so minutes. Imagine perfectly tailored clothes instantly.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (4) Jun 11, 2012
A clothing store should consist of you walking in, having holographic projections of clothes put on you, then when you select which garments you want, strip naked, get scanned by lasers and have your garment custom made right there by robots in 10 or so minutes. Imagine perfectly tailored clothes instantly.


this sounds simple, but we're still at least 100 years away from this i think. AT LEAST.
the pieces are all there. and people are doing the lazer scanning of bodies now for fitting, but the custom sewing machine and it being cheap enough to be able to be in the same place as the scanning store----and being able to do custom jobs quickly enough to pull a profit. think about that.
more like 200 years.
Job001
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 11, 2012
As society approaches 100% productivity the wage slave job paradigm will disolve. Robots; 3D printers, clothing, transport, food, health, entertainment, disposal, security, maintenance, and communication will provide for people at minimal cost (material Energy robot rent).
The inevitable is: everyone retires at birth.
thingumbobesquire
1 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2012
This is on its face a worthy endeavor. Only Luddites would argue otherwise. It does beg the question, however, of the quality if job creation that is required for our exit out of the nightmarish post industrial/derivative securities based financial system that is so evidently collapsing around the planet.
We need plenty of cheap energy for robotics and a lot of other things. We need plenty of fresh water for agriculture, industry and human consumption. Massive water projects like NAWAPA for North America have been on the books for decades. We need massive upgrades in nuclear fusion research and the manned space program.
Instead of this, our so called leaders in both parties are scrambling to bail out speculative gambling casino too big to fail financiers as they stuff their pockets with their filthy lucre. This cannot stand for long.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Jun 11, 2012
A clothing store should consist of you walking in, having holographic projections of clothes put on you, then when you select which garments you want, strip naked, get scanned by lasers and have your garment custom made right there by robots in 10 or so minutes. Imagine perfectly tailored clothes instantly.


this sounds simple, but we're still at least 100 years away from this i think. AT LEAST.
the pieces are all there. and people are doing the lazer scanning of bodies now for fitting, but the custom sewing machine and it being cheap enough to be able to be in the same place as the scanning store----and being able to do custom jobs quickly enough to pull a profit. think about that.
more like 200 years.


It will be way less than 100 years. Look at how fast technology progresses. In 200 years we went from steam engines to nuclear. Trains to spaceflight. Cotton gins to 3d printers and nano-circuitry.