Last October, scientists at MIT developed a way to make robots crawl on fabric with clever use of magnets. “That’s great,” the world collectively responded, “but why would I want a robot to stomping all over my clothes?”

With ten months to come up with the response, you’d probably have hoped for something a bit more convincing than “living jewellery,” but that’s where we’ve ended up. Project Kino is a selection of little robot bugs that will trundle along your clothes – and I can’t help feeling they’ll be just as welcome as actual insects hitching a ride.

So, are they for fashion or function? MIT would argue both, but you’ll likely need to suitably dampen your expectations of the words to agree. The video below gives you a little taster of the limited possibilities, which include robots moving to adjust a garment’s pattern and another two tugging the drawstrings of a hood to very slowly adapt to weather conditions.

“We’re thinking of wearables as a personal assistant,” Project Kino team member Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao told TechCrunch. “We think in the future when they can have a brain of their own, they can learn your habits, learn your professional style, and when they get smaller, they can blend into the things you wear.”

I guess? I mean, obviously reducing the robots’ size would make them a bit less ostentatious, but even at their current scale, each one only has 45 minutes of battery life. It’s hard to see how the need to make them smaller can be squared against the need to give them more stamina – although one suggestion is wireless chargers built into the garments themselves.  

But even if these practical questions are answered satisfactorily, I still can’t get past the overriding question: why? There’s just no useful functionality here – unless you have a debilitating fear of drawstring toggles. Smart clothing always feels like a solution desperately seeking a problem, and it’s hard to see how throwing robots bugs at a pile of laundry is going to make the elusive problem reveal itself, no matter how impressive the underlying tech.



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