Static electricity could help robots finally conquer the fashion industry, said Marc Bain at Quartz. While robots can deal fairly easily with the mostly uniform and rigid materials that go into cellphones and automobiles, they have trouble handling the wide variety of soft materials needed to make footwear and clothing. "A vacuum may pick up pieces of leather, for instance, but it can't deal with mesh." As a result, the apparel industry has been slower to automate.

(Courtesy image)

That could change with the Stackit robot, which "uses electroadhesion — basically the cling of static ­electricity — to let robots pick up and handle objects of all kinds." Stackit's makers say the device can manipulate everything from an egg to soft fabrics to a 50-pound box. "The firm has Nike convinced." The shoemaker is installing Stackit robots in about a dozen of its factories this year.