IT is an invention that could benefit millions of people by putting an end to one of life's most tiresome chores.

In a technological breakthrough to rival the switch from basins of water to washing machines, Scottish scientists have created a robot that can sort and fold clothes.

To the delight of anyone who has ever wearily sorted their laundry, the team from Glasgow University designed the machine to sort clothing by fabric and put them neatly into a pile.

Loading article content

The automaton, named Dexterous Blue, even thinks about how best to arrange a pile of clothes and is able to fold all items, big or small.

However, the project does have a serious side as the robot had to be built from the ground up to do a job that humans take for granted, increasing the store of knowledge on how to design machines that can do delicate tasks.

The project has reached the end of its first three years of EU funding. It involves researchers from Scotland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Greece.

Research associate Dr Gerardo Aragon said: "The most difficult aspect was to understand the dynamics and the interaction with these type of materials.

"Because they are not completely solid. They are very floppy and very difficult to understand what's going on."

Dextrous Blue stands about 8ft high and works using a pair of large mechanical arms ending in grippers to do the sorting and folding.

It can 'see' through two electronic eyes made from digital cameras and even hears the distinct rustles of types of cloth through sensors in its hand. .

Dr Paul Siebert, reader in computing science at Glasgow University, said: "The key innovations behind this machine are the use of vision and how we understand the scene in terms of providing very, very high accuracy in our depth sensing.

"So we treat the clothing as a sort of mountain range and then parse that range into its different shapes, which allows the machine to build up a picture of what state the clothing is in.

"This sounds very trivial, the sort of thing a person could do instantly. But to get a machine to do this is a phenomenally difficult task."

The official name for the project is CloPeMa, short for Clothes Perception and Manipulation.

Dr Siebert hopes it could lead to a boost for the textile industry, as well as demonstrating where the next advances in robotics could come from.

He said: "Perhaps the most immediate and serious application is onshoring - how to be able to produce perhaps small runs of custom clothing affordably without having to send it to the other side of the world.

"So you reduce carbon footprint, you increase profitability and you bring textile manufacturing back to Scotland."