MIT creates a robot for untangling hair

There are some activities of daily living that many of us take for granted, such as being able to untangle and brush our hair. For people with disabilities or limited motion, the simple act of brushing the hair is often something that requires someone else to help. Researchers at MIT have created a robot that's able to help with untangling and brushing hair.

The RoboWig robot has a camera that allows it to "see" and assess the curliness of the hair so it can plan a time-efficient method of brushing the hair. In testing, RoboWig was used to brush wigs ranging from straight to very curly. The team notes that every head of hair is different, and incorrect brushing strategies can lead to a painful experience for the user and damaged hair.

The researchers equipped the robot with a soft-bristled brush with sensors attached to a robot arm. The sensors allow forces during brushing to be measured and are combined with something called a closed-loop control system. That system takes feedback from an output and automatically acts without any human interaction. The system allows the robot to take into account the length of the stroke and the potential pain caused to the user while considering the time needed to brush.

While all testing so far has been performed using wigs, the team hopes to eventually perform experiments on humans. One goal of future experiments on humans would be to better understand the robot's performance with respect to pain levels for individual users. The challenge with that is that pain tolerance varies widely among users.

While a robot to brush hair could help those with limited mobility, the team also believes similar robots have the potential for performing other tasks. The technology could be applied to brushing fibers for textiles or animal fibers, for instance.