Computer scientists at Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have engineered a system that is capable of translating a wide variety of 3-D shapes into stitch-by-stitch instructions that can be used by computer-controlled knitting machines. Researchers in the CMU Textiles Lab have used the system to produce a variety of garments and plush toys. James McCann, assistant professor in the Robotics Institute and leader of the lab, envisions a future where knitting machines are as easy to use as 3-D printers, and will allow machines to manufacture customized pieces one at a time or in small quantities.
“Now, if you run a floor of knitting machines, you also have a department of engineers,” said McCann, who noted that garment designers rarely have the specialized expertise necessary to program the machines. “It’s not a sustainable way of doing one-off customized pieces.”
Further development work is needed to bring on-demand knitting to the market, but advances may happen quickly. “The knitting hardware is already really good,” McCann said. “It’s the software that needs a little push. And software can improve rapidly because we can iterate so much faster.”