A Robot For Everything: Now Even Zippers

Sometimes we see projects that are so clever while being remarkably simple, that we can’t help thinking: Why didn’t I think of that! Take [Haresh Karnan]’s zipper robot, for example. It’s a well-designed 3D-printed shell with two geared motors for traction, that can both undo and do up zippers. Behind that seemingly simple design probably lies a huge iterative design process to arrive at a shape perfect for the job, but the end result is so elegant that even [Haresh]’s write-up and Hackaday.io page for the project are short and to the point. Download the STL file, snap in the motors, apply to a zipper, and away you go. He suggests rubber bands as a traction aid, but that’s pretty much it.

The results can be seen in the video below the break. While we might be tempted to make jokes about the terminally lazy using this device to save unnecessary labour after a toilet break, we can see that it might have a real application. If you have any friends with restricted dexterity you will understand how having an automated helper with such a fiddly task as a zipper could be an extremely useful accessibility aid.

While we’re on the subject of zippers, if you missed it a few weeks ago here’s our in-depth look at their story.

29 thoughts on “A Robot For Everything: Now Even Zippers

  1. Cool idea and implementation, maybe as some accessibility aid, as already mentioned. Need to speed it up though.

    “While we might be tempted to make jokes about the terminally lazy using this device to save unnecessary…”
    Yea, imagine waiting for her dress to come off at this speed… huh.

  2. It’s interesting how the default sales approach to these kind of things always seems to start with how it can give greater accessibility to those with disabilities. I guess it makes the idea sell better or seem more palatable?

    1. For someone exposed to the project, their default position might be – “wow, this enables automated, strong, reversible and flexible connections between fabric, this could be really useful, as well as having applications for people with limited physical capacity”? or it might be “hur hur hur, how lazy would you need to be to use this”(as indicated in the article) or “they’re explicitally mentioning disabilities to make people care about ‘these kind of things'”(as indicated by your comment).

      I like this site because most comments fall into the first category. However, even on an enlightened site, not everyone is aware of the difficulties some people face, or have the instant reflex to make the connection. So the connection is suggested by the maker/author/editor.

      I warmly invite you to try duct taping mittens to your hands for a week and then imagine what a difference something like this could make to someone with limited sensory feedback or dexterity. Then, reflect on the unconcious bias in your world view, and consider how widely shared this unconcious bias is. This is likely to be a greatly beneficial exersise for you. Might even enable you to become wealthy one day, in both money and empathy for the less fortunate.

      1. There is the fact that many things are invented just because, and little thought is put into what it’s actually used for. People get fascinated by things that move. There are tons of cool solutions looking for problems.

        But then comes the time to present it, and the question arises, and so the inventor, or some commentator, racks their brain and usually the first thing that comes up when you automate something is obviously that you don’t need to do it by hand, and therefore the first conclusion is that it’s a disability aid.

        It’s a cheap ad-hoc escape to avoid admitting that you don’t have an idea.

        Other variations include “it’s good for your health”, or “helps fight climate change”, or “saves time”, etc. depending on the subject.

        1. And this mechanism does have an actual application with rigid belt actuators, where bands of material with zippers on the edges are connected together to form a tube. When retracted, the zippers open and the bands can be rolled up into a small container.

      2. I am not discounting the utility of many of these inventions in the least. Nor am I calling out the idea that explicitly mentioning disabilities necessarily makes people care more. Nor am I making any kind of judgement about that either for that matter. The helpful role (in theory) that many of these type of inventions appear to offer to a lay journalist and that some actually do offer in practice is not really in question.

        I am however more curious why the default approach is historically towards saying that a potentially assistive technology commonly tends to be “sold” or portrayed as being helpful to anyone with a disability. Maybe it actually happens less than one might think? Is it not considered socially acceptable at all to posit a product as being able to enhance individuals, including ones without a specific disability?

        Even from a speculative “how could we use this as of yet not widespread technology” perspective? We see entire (typically science fiction) movies that explore this issue to a degree. Typically with advanced technology that is not currently available (or has significant glossed over downsides or is not even technically possible) and typically but not always portraying the technology as an enabling negative tool.

        Thinking about it a bit more, many “enabling” products or services out there are marketed towards individuals without disabilities and while they may certainly have utility to certain types of disabilities, that isn’t the focus. Items like wireless headsets, automatic vehicles, many of the inexpensive “sold on TV” products, eyetracking VR headsets, etc. Those products are all primarily marketed towards individuals without disabilities. That does not reduce their utility to anyone with a disability of course but that is not always the target market.

        My point is that I am mostly just curious if there is an inherent reticence towards marketers portraying a product as potentially making an average person who uses the product or service being marketed as then becoming superior to everyone not using the product or service being marketed as being deemed socially less acceptable than saying the same basic marketing message but portraying it instead as saying it could help a disabled person try to achieve a normal level of activity or daily life or something along those lines? Does that make sense?

        1. In reading your response, it appears that I misinterpreted your initial question. I was perhaps reacting to a point of view that you were not expressing, but one that I had been exposed to: ‘aren’t we doing too much to help disabled people already’. This is clearly not what you were getting at, and I get the opinion that you would likewise find this abhorrent. I posit that we agree that helping people is a good thing, and we can leave that one alone.
          I believe I understand the question you were asking about marketing. I am not in advertising, so speak from my own observations as a consumer.

          As you point out, there are many products and designs that are helpful to those with specific needs, but are marketed to all. I believe that dropped kerbs and chunky grip potato peelers are examples of this as specifically enabling designs.

          From my observations, assistive and task-based products are marketed on their benefit in their function. (It chops faster, cleaner, it dries better etc) – the comparison is to a version of you without the item. This method mainly targets to people with specific, defined needs, blockers or pain. (I need a drill to drill many holes quickly/I need something to help me pick up things from floor). Once the pain goes away, so does demand. (Hello, designed obsolescence)
          It appears that most social-leverage advertising has messaging around making you better than other people who do not have said item. But the cues tend to be more subtle – lifestyles – flashy cars, designer items etc. Its more effective to sell people a dream and associate your item with the dream. They have utility, but they are sold mainly by the contrast with other people who do not have it – implying superiority. Another aspect is group membership – having a thing because everyone else has a thing, and you will be outside the ‘tribe’, despite one not being functionally better.

          These two only require a dream to be sold – the goods don’t have to be that good, and the potential for the dream to print money is near limitless as it trades on insecurities.

          There is an interesting cross over – competitive goods. Items that make you faster, hit harder, be lighter. Having this thing makes you superior, makes you win. You don’t want to be the person with the heavier, non thingified stuff, as you will be slower, and worse. To even compete, you need this thing. Super DPI mice, fastest, lowest latency ‘gaming’ screens, super light bikes, carbon nanotube golf clubs and so on. These hit both utility, dreams and insecurities.
          Effectively, I am not convinced that there is reticence – marketing appears to attempt to be efficient at selling as many things as possible. Utility is not sufficient in most circumstances to sell mega quantities of items (see shopping channels). In our generally comfortable existences, social and competitive drives are deeper wells to draw on; inviting marketing in this area, and further development of these drives.

          If humans were different, we might have sci fi shorts that meaningfully explore the use cases of a new technology as a part advert, part training guide. Instead, we get Michael Bays Transformers. Go figure!

        2. I think anyone with daily exposure to someone with some sort of disability is always looking for things that make a few more activities accessible. For example, I live with my grandmother who went through a bout of macular degeneration and has an eyelid folding inward to scrape the cornea on top of that. What I wouldn’t give for some way to give her access to the wider online world without having to go through me. I got her a Google Home Mini but we haven’t got her to use it yet. Heck just a way to make the number pad on the oven visible again without replacing the whole thing would be nice.

  3. This is great, there are a lot of Texans who can’t reach their zippers.

    Automatic door openers are a great invention that makes buildings more accessible to people with a variety of mobility and dexterity issues. Not arguing against them, but for each person I see use one out of necessity, I see four more who use them out of sloth. Wall-E future, here we come.

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