Artificial Intelligence Is On Its Way To Apparel. Will It Disrupt?

"3D printing took a while before people were comfortable enough to think they could do something with it. It will be the same thing with what we do.”

MIT researchers are working on software that would allow anyone to create their own custom garments. Think of it as 3D printing reaching the world of apparel.

The software being developed at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is InverseKnit, which aims to automatically create patterns from photos of knitted items, and CADKnit, which aims to allow inexperienced users to quickly customize apparel templates, according to Tech Crunch.

But don’t count on the new technology disrupting the imprinted apparel or promotional products industries just yet.

For starters, the software, for now, is aimed at knitwear only and so it stands to touch only a portion of the apparel industry.

It’s also not clear how many new apparel makers it can really generate. The software requires greater-than-novice technical knowledge. And the cost of potentially compatible hardware like the Kniterate digital knitting machine is too high for most people to get started on a whim.

The bar to entering apparel production could be lowered, but the cost and knowledge thresholds would remain above ground level.

Meanwhile, the quality of products, the cost of products, and the scalability of production remains to be seen. That, and the software doesn’t actually exist yet. The latest is that the software was described in two MIT papers. Commercialization remains the goal, but there are many steps from the MIT papers to the market.

Kniterate, the digital knitting machine suggested as a potential partner to the software, isn't out yet, either. It has a 2020 release date.

Finally, there’s the matter of adoption and its pace.

"3D printing took a while before people were comfortable enough to think they could do something with it,” Alexandre Kaspar, the MIT computer scientist leading the project, said at Tech Crunch. "It will be the same thing with what we do.”

What’s an apparel maker to do? Treat AI-aided garment making like any innovation in the industry: stay informed about the new technology and buy it or try it if you can. You’ll be better ready to respond if or when it becomes a marketplace disruption, and better ready to adopt if or when it proves a viable production method.

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