From the first sliver of bone used as a needle to sew garments to the invention of the sewing machine, we have always used tools to advance the increasingly complex tasks of clothes-making. As our demands grow, so does technology. By 2050, the population on Earth will be 10 billion – we will need some very fast needles!

Enter robots! Not the scary kind marching to fight the space empires, but the kind that has been slowly rising for decades, automating tasks that would for us be too small, too large, or too deadly. 

Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) used for organizing product warehouses are already common in the fashion industry; but now robots are helping to design and make clothes too. AI can scan customer preferences in colors, patterns and textiles and from this data create suggested designs for the human designer’s approval. Stitch Fix is one company using this “Hybrid Design” technology. Apart from the cost-effective uses of automated pattern-cutting, the new generation of “sewbots” such as that by startup company Sewbo, with highly sensitive robotic arms equipped with vacuum grippers and micro-manipulators can guide fabric under a sewing machine foot as sensitively as a human hand. 

3D printing has proved a useful tool for many industry leaders, including Adidas who partnered with Carbon 3D printers to create novel sneaker soles. 3D printing has also proven useful to footwear startup The Future of Walking whom are one of IFA Paris’ industry collaborators this year. In 2013 Nike invested in Grabit, a robot which uses static electricity to help machines manipulate objects to create the upper. These 3D printed and robotically assembled creations can be made in very small batches, allowing for personalisation and customisation. Exclusive series of unique designs help growing businesses gain a foothold in the industry without using too many resources. 

The emerging technology of 4D design combines 3D printing techniques with high-level material science, engineering and software, giving the materials the ability to change over time. The future of creation is already looking at design at micro or nanoscale, making it possible to design each garment atom by atom. Nanotech will also allow us to modify the way we see, by inserting tools that help us see or hear better within wearable garments. 

From fighting galactic armies to helping us create smarter, robots have evolved from fantasy to reality. Robots are accelerators, enabling democratisation and innovation within the STEM fields, removing gender stereotypes and allowing us greater creativity and elasticity to the needs of the future. To remain the industry innovators, we need to train ourselves to work alongside them. The module entitled 'The Fourth Industrial Revolution' on our Postgraduate Fashion Tech Innovation course is designed to explore how digital technologies will revolutionize all facets of the fashion supply chain and how to create the clean, sustainable and creative future in fashion at the convergence of sciences that we all look forward to being a part of.