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Friday, April 17, 2009

Robot of the Day: Panasonic's Hair-Washing Robot

Washing your hair might not be a difficult or tedious task that needs to be automated, unless you are a disabled person, an elderly, or a nurse at a hospital who has to give many patients many hair washes everyday.

At the International H.C.R. Exhibition (International Home Care & Rehabilitation Exhibition) 2010 held at Tokyo last year, Panasonic demoed a prototype robot that's capable of washing a person's hair autonomously. That robot had 16 fingers. In the upcoming H.C.R. 2011. Exhibition that will be held next week at Tokyo, Japan, Panasonic will demon a newer version of the hair-washing robot, one with 24 fingers and supposedly capable of delivering a more comfortable wash.

The hair-washing robot, with the size of a washing machine, is fully automous and can perform all the tasks of your regular hairdresser from wetting to shampooing, rinsing, conditioning and drying. It can even give you a head message at the end of hair wash like how most hairdressers do it in China. The robot first scans the shape of the person's head and then uses two robotic arms to guide the 16 fingers to work on your head. Sensors built into these fingers also make sure they apply the right amount of pressure to your head so your head does not explode. The video below shows you how the robot works.

In the video the robot only worked on a dummy. I would have liked to see a real human getting served by the robot. I don't know if real human have been used to test the robot, but I am pretty sure this kind of experiments would never get approved by the IRB at the universities here in the US. (On a side note, all those military robots never seem to run into this IRB problem, somehow.)

It would be really fun to open a shop equipped with these robots. For now people would just walk in to get a hair wash and massage. In the future, customers might also get a haircut in these unmanned barber shops. That would my idea type of robots -- robots that work and make money for me, so I don't have to. LOL! Of course one challenge is to help people overcome their fear of the robot malfunctioning. In fact, the lack of regulations and rules regarding the liabilities and safety of such kind of robots (robots with close human-robot interactions) is the precise reason why Panasonic has not commercialized the robot. Rumor has it that the situation will change dramatically during the year of 2012.

To be honest, I don't mind having one of these at my house if I don't have to pay for it. I'll even wash my hair once a day! But what I really need is a robot that can wash my kids autonomously several times everyday. Somehow they are always dirty!

Now I know why some people don't hate mowing the lawn, because they either have a robot lawn mower or they have a self-propelled lawn mower (which counts as a half-robot). I got one of those self-propelled lawn mowers, and man, what a difference! Now mowing the lawn feels like walking the dog.