[font=book antiqua]from my "and now for something completely different" box we have this little gem of a news item.
pumped-up dummy does the ironing
16:43 01 june 04 newscientist.com news service dressman uses double the power of a normal domestic iron
a human-shaped dummy that irons shirts by pumping itself up with hot air has been created by researchers in spain. it is the first machine designed for the home that can take on this tedious chore.
the dressman has a balloon-like sack, shaped like a human torso and arms, and a rigid heating box at its centre, allowing it to blow-dry shirts. the device was designed by researchers at bsh electrodomésticos, an electronics company in navarra, spain, on behalf of the german electronics giant siemens.
"this will be a complement to the lawnmowing and vacuum cleaning robots that already exist," says jan karlsson of the un economic commission for europe in geneva, switzerland. he carried out a survey in 2003 that showed that sales of robots designed to carry out domestic chores and for home entertainment had tripled compared to 2002.
however, unlike the vacuum-cleaning and lawn-mowing robots currently on the market, the dressman is not strictly speaking a robot because it is not computer-controlled. but it is part of a growing army of expensive machines that are designed to relieve people of household chores.
"ironing is so boring," says karlsson. "i really think people will use this." surveys show that ironing is the domestic chore that people dislike the most, with shirts considered the most difficult.
the creators of dressman also claim that their device does a better job than a conventional iron. hand-held irons can crush garments as they heat them, they say, causing them to take on a shiny look. in contrast, the only pressure dressman applies is that needed to inflate the arms of the dummy.
to iron a shirt, a user dresses the deflated dummy with a crumpled and damp garment. next, the heating box is switched on and hot air is pumped into the balloon until the shirt is taut.
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the dummy is made of cloth that allows more hot air to pass through in the places where a shirt tends to have several layers of fabric, such as the cuffs and pockets. this means these places are ironed at the same rate as the rest of the shirt.
the box continues to pump hot air for a period set by the user - between five and 15 minutes depending on the shirt's material. then it fills the balloon with cold air for one minute to "set" the shirt and stop it crumpling when the air is turned off.
dressman uses 3300 watts, approximately double the power of a normal domestic iron, though it also has a reduced setting of 2150 w
the dressman first went on sale in germany and spain in january 2004 for 900 euros (about $1000). it will go on sale in the uk at the end of june. karlsson says he does not believe this high price is prohibitive for wealthy families, who would otherwise pay someone to do their ironing. he also expects the device to become cheaper as it gains in popularity.