Meet the engineer who will get a robotic hairdresser to shave with a razor

John Peter Whitney

John Peter Whitney is confident about advances in robotics. So confident, in fact, that he recently had a robot put a razor on his face to shave.

No, it's not a lockdown-induced hairdressing startup or a jackass-style stunt. Instead, Whitney, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and industrial engineering at Northeastern University School of Engineering, was interested in razor blade shaving as a microcosm of some of the major challenges robots have faced in the past (such as their jerky robot movement). and how they can be solved now.

Because he is so confident that many of these problems can be solved with the right approach, he and his colleagues have built a remote-controlled robotic shaving system that allows a human hairdresser to control the blade-vibrating bot to shave Whitney's beard – without process of murdering him.

"I was extremely confident in the hardware and the security of the device."

"Shaving with a razor is extremely demanding," Whitney told Digital Trends. “We need the ability to provide high stiffness in some directions and very low stiffness in other directions. These directions change continuously as the position and orientation of the blade change. We also need the ability to have a quick “reflex” to move away when security boundaries are violated. The only way to do this is to build a system in which every single joint is extremely light and extremely low in friction. "

Don't let an old robot shave you

This is not possible with conventional robot designs, he explained. With the "Remote Direct Drive" setup developed for this demo – a liquid-based soft actuator in combination with feedback of the liquid pressure force – many of these problems could be solved. The result is a light and low-friction gear that allows a human to control the incredibly precise robot remotely. Lab Ph.D. The student Evelyn Mendoza was instrumental in building "almost all components" of the customized system.

"I was extremely confident in the hardware and safety of the device, as well as in the skills of (hairdresser Jesse Cabbage)," Whitney told Digital Trends. "But there were a few unknowns for me. For example, Jesse relied on me to pull and pretension the skin on my cheek. When I shave myself or Jesse shaves someone else, the operator controls the blade and skin. In this case, we divided these tasks. When the shave started, I was actually more nervous (than) before we started, mainly due to the fact that we followed a full prep routine with hot water and soap to make my skin and whiskers as soft as possible. "

This was developed to give the hairdresser a more effortless cut. Kohl could feel the transmitted vibrations of the cutting hair through the blade. However, Whitney found it annoying because it was a different feeling than if he had previously practiced shaving with a razor.

Everything for a good cause

"As he went down my cheek, I became more and more concerned that the angle between the blade and my skin wasn't optimal," said Cabbage. “The device we used, which was developed… to test prostate needle biopsy procedures, allows you to control the x-y-z position of the blade, but not the angle that needs to be preset.”

As Whitney notes, this shows not only a trick, but also the ability of certain robot systems to perform incredibly accurate and precise movements for applications such as medical interventions. Robots are increasingly being used in surgical tasks. Thanks to pioneering work such as Whitney and his colleagues, this trend should only continue in the coming years. Heck, maybe your surgeon bot is even throwing up a quick facial hair that will be cleaned up with your procedure!

A video describing the project can be seen above. An article with additional details can also be read online.

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