Forget world domination, this robot untangles your hair

MIT RoboWig hair brushing robot
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Although robots are oftentime depicted as vicious revenge seeking beings, there are some cute ones and some that are actually quite helpful. I give you MIT CSAIL’s RoboWig as an example. The robot is outfitted with a hairbrush and the sole mission of detangling hair.

RoboWig is actually a robot arm, so if you’re suspicious you should feel relieved he can’t walk around and grab you by the hair. The thing wasn’t designed to style you for your night out, but rather to aid the elderly and people with limited mobility. As the demands on the health care system are rapidly growing, something like RoboWig might be able to provide some help and relief. And of course MIT could always decide to launch a more glammed op version for some hands-free AI-styling. For those of you who know that hair machine in the Jetsons, that’s what I’m talking about.

Sensorized brush and computer vision

But forget styling and dying, the fact that someone was able to make a hair brushing robot is already quite impressive. The robot has to use enough force to untangle the hair, but at the same time be gentle enough so it doesn’t turn into a torturous experience. So how did MIT do it? RoboWig uses a sensorized brush and computer vision to do its job. It’s able to adjust the brushing strength with feedback from the brush. To do this it uses a mathematical model that sees tangled hair as sets of entwined double helices. The computer vision system adds additional information about how to brush the given head of hair. An image of the hair is first converted to grayscale and then separated into horizontal and vertical gradients to provide the robot with the necessary information.

For now the researchers have tested the robot on a selection of wigs with different hair styles and types. They aim to eventually groom actual humans. “To allow robots to extend their task-solving abilities to more complex tasks such as hair brushing, we need not only novel safe hardware, but also an understanding of the complex behavior of the soft hair and tangled fibers,” says CSAIL postdoc Josie Hughes. “In addition to hair brushing, the insights provided by our approach could be applied to brushing of fibers for textiles, or animal fibers.” 

Tip: Nail it every time with this nailpolish robot

Header image: MIT

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