If you’ve been self-quarantining and social distancing through the coronavirus pandemic like you should, then it has been several months since you’ve had a haircut. You’re probably starting to resemble Tom Hanks just before his character left the island in Castaway, and your significant other is judging you much more harshly than a volleyball ever could. The obvious solution is to spend a great deal of money and time to build a complex robot that is capable of automatically providing haircuts. That’s exactly what Shane Wighton, of the Stuff Made Here YouTube channel, has spent quarantine doing.
This robot is terrifying for good reason: it is potentially very dangerous. You absolutely should not attempt a project like this unless you’re keen on having a pair of scissors forcefully implanted into your eyeball. But Wighton is very brave, completely insane, or thoroughly confident in his skills. The robot that he built can methodically go about shearing his hair, and can even do so at varying lengths according to a special 3D model that Wighton can create to design specific haircuts. That is a 3D model of a human head, and it is digitally painted to indicate how long the hair is supposed to be at any even point.
The robot cuts hair a bit like the infamous Flowbee device; a vacuum pulls a chunk of hair away from the head, and a gripper then clamps over that lock of hair to hold it securely while a pair of scissors is used to snip it off. The robot was built mostly from bent sheet metal and 3D-printed parts. It has five degrees of freedom — not including the gripper or scissor actuators — in order to reach every point of the head and orient the scissors properly. The motors are controlled by a Teensy development board via stepper motor drivers. The motor commands themselves come from a connected computer. Wighton experimented with computer vision, but that was too unreliable. He ended up using a simple limit switch as a probe so the robot can determine where his head actually is. Even so and despite how impressive it is, we’d rather deal with unruly hair than trust this robot to cut our hair without drawing blood.