This Guy Didn't Want to Get a Haircut in Public, So He Built a Robot Barber

Photo credit: Shane Wighton/Stuff Made Here
Photo credit: Shane Wighton/Stuff Made Here
  • YouTuber Shane Wighton has built a robotic barber that can cut his hair.

  • In his video, Wighton explains how he trained the robot to separate sections of his hair, like a stylist might with a comb or their fingers.

  • This isn't Wighton's first quarantine project. Earlier this year, Popular Mechanics spoke with him about his never-miss basketball hoop.

While some states have partially reopened and loosened restrictions on barber shops and hair salons, not everyone is ready to head out in public for a haircut just yet. That means many people around the world are still sporting shaggy quarantine cuts.

To tame his wild mane, then, Shane Wighton, an engineer and YouTuber known for his channel, Stuff Made Here, has built the ultimate hairstylist: a robotic barber.

"I would rather not have someone cut my hair who's also touching 100 other people's heads all day long, so I built this robot," Wighton says in the July 14 YouTube video.

The robot uses only scissors—no trimmers—adding another layer of difficulty. Even trickier: It also has to separate chunks of hair so it can laser in on that section, sort of like your hairstylist might while combing and fingering through your locks.

Of course, robots aren't exactly known for having dexterity in their digits—quite the opposite, in fact. It's a whole area of research in and of itself.

Photo credit: Screenshot/Stuff Made Here
Photo credit: Screenshot/Stuff Made Here

In the video, Wighton explains how he trained the robot to use two combs to separate the sections of hair. He even built a special mechanism for it. But what might make sense for a person doesn't always make sense for a robot; for the system to see each hair and separate them, it would need overhead cameras and advanced object detection algorithms.

On to Plan B: Next, Wighton replaced the comb device with a simple vacuum tube that sucks up the hair, allowing it to go in with the scissors. We won't spoil what happens.

If you don't want to build your own barber bot like Wighton, good news: Preliminary research shows that face masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in hair salons.

Photo credit: CDC
Photo credit: CDC

Two hairstylists in Springfield, Missouri tested positive for the virus in May. In the lead-up to their COVID-19 tests, the two employees serviced 139 clients. Following contact tracing and two weeks of incubation, "no COVID-19 symptoms were identified among the 139 exposed clients or their secondary contacts," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

"As stay-at-home orders are lifted, professional and social interactions in the community will present more opportunities for spread of SARS-CoV-2," the CDC says in a July 17 post about the research. "Broader implementation of masking policies could mitigate the spread of infection in the general population."

Wighton has been pretty busy in quarantine. Earlier this year, Popular Mechanics spoke to the inventor about another of his lockdown creations: a robotic basketball hoop that helps you land the shot every single time.

As far as his newest project, he feels like even the worst robot 'do is still a positive.

"Even if this thing gives me a terrible haircut, I still feel like I've won," he says in the video. "How many people have a robot-made haircut? It's basically art."

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