By Denver Nicks
June 7, 2016
Mimi Haddon—Getty Images

A startup in California has unveiled a new robot that will transform the human condition by liberating us from that most tedious of chores—folding laundry.

FoldiMate’s laundry-folding robot will steam and press out the wrinkles in your shirts and pants and even perfume them, all at twice the pace of a live human. With a price tag of between $700 and $850, you’d hope the FoldiMate might actually wash your clothes too, but it won’t. It also can’t do underwear, bedsheets, or other large or oddly shaped items, and you have to clip clothing items in place before the FoldiMate can get to folding.

It’s not exactly Rosey the Robot from The Jetsons. With so many limitations and such a steep price it might be easy to dismiss the FoldiMate as uneconomical or trivial. But this robot—or at least robots like it—represents a development more significant than you might think.

When asked about the one invention in her lifetime that had the biggest impact on her life, my great-grandmother answered honestly and without hesitation: the washing machine. She wasn’t joking.

It makes intuitive sense if you think about it. Cleaning clothes without a washing machine is extremely time-consuming. The atom bomb is no small thing, of course, but when it comes down to how my great-grandmother’s life was most affected day in and day out, there’s no comparison. The washing machine didn’t just save her from an irritating chore, it transformed her life, freeing up hours upon hours to do things other than scrub clothes. Maybe she had additional time to catch up on other household work, or visit with a friend, or read a book–maybe just sleep.

Granted, folding clothes isn’t as laborious as getting out stains on a washboard and the FoldiMate really is kind of lame, what with all the work you have to do to get it ready, but this and other robots being developed to take over household chores are a significant step for gender parity.

According to the Pew Research Center, American dads spend seven hours a week taking care of their kids. That’s a big step up from three hours in 1965, but still a far cry from the 14 hours moms spend on childcare today. Dads today do 10 hours of housework per week, compared to 18 hours per week for moms, and it isn’t just a matter of more dads than moms being at the office during the week. On the weekend, dads spend an average of one hour per day more on leisure activities than moms.

Though society has progressed, leveling the scales for American women, it’s still true that domestic tasks fall to women more than men. Changes in culture may continue to create more balanced domestic arrangements, as they have over the last several decades, but if we’re talking about the straightforward question of how to reduce the load of domestic chores women carry there is one fix that’s certain to work—have someone, or something, else do them instead.

Nowadays there are pizza delivery robots, robot cooks, robot dogs and robot friends. A pizza delivery robot may not be all that revolutionary, but a robot that makes breakfast and dinner could be transformative indeed for the many women who have the unglamorous responsibility of making meals for their families.

Pre-orders for the FoldiMate start in 2017. At a price of roughly $800 dollars, I think I’d rather just hire a wash-and-fold service, especially considering the FoldiMate’s substantial limitations. The important thing is that FoldiMate is just one iteration in what will surely be better robots to come. My great-grandmother wouldn’t even know where to begin with a laundry-folding robot, but I can guarantee you that she’d want one.

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