The Economist: Made to Measure
“The distortion of the fabric is no longer an issue. That’s what prevented automatic sewing in the past,” says Steve Dickerson, the founder of SoftWear Automation, a textile-equipment manufacturer based in Atlanta, where Dr Dickerson was a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The company is developing machines which tackle the problems of automated sewing in a number of ways. They use cameras linked to a computer to track the stitching. Researchers have tried using machine vision before, for instance by having cameras detect the edge of a piece of fabric to work out where to stitch.
The Atlanta team, however, have greatly increased accuracy by using high-speed photography to capture up to 1,000 frames per second. These images are then manipulated by software to produce a higher level of contrast. This more vivid image allows the computer to pick out individual threads in the fabric. Instead of measuring the fabric the robotic sewing machine counts the number of threads to determine the stitching position. As a consequence, any distortion to the fabric made by each punch of the needle can be measured extremely accurately. These measurements also allow the “feed dog”, which gently pulls fabric through the machine, to make constant tiny adjustments to keep things smooth and even.
Read the full article at The Economist.