You May Trust Driverless Cars, But Do You Trust Driverless Barbers?

Although it is getting more common to have self-driving cars on the road, we have to admit we are still a bit uneasy. After all, we know first hand how hard it is to think of every case and how unreliable things can be. But what about having your hair cut by a robot? At least a car can have airbags and automatically stop at any sign of trouble. But letting a robot hold a sharp instrument up to your head? That’s what Buzz Robotics wants to do and they are starting with a neck trim that you can see in the video below.

Honestly, since the trimmers are probably not that dangerous, we feel a little better. But the fact that the screen says “Calibrated Bad” doesn’t install confidence. While the robobarber might not be able to cut your head off, it could certainly ruin your coiffure.

Right now, most of the information on Buzz seems to be on Twitter. The neck gets scanned and a program computes the angles and rotations. We aren’t sure what happens when you move your head.

On the face of it, it makes sense. If you could have an autobarber that could cut your hair for $10 and doesn’t need a tip, it could really change the low-end haircut market. But it seems unlikely that people who see a barber shop or a beauty shop as a social event are going to switch. Not to mention unless the robot can deal with a lot of head motion, kids haircuts are out, too.

People are pretty conservative with their hair cutting equipment. Remember Flowbee? Then again, if you want to merge with technology, there are some advantages to long hair.

46 thoughts on “You May Trust Driverless Cars, But Do You Trust Driverless Barbers?

  1. This is probably about 1000% safer then Telas “Autopilot” (but please don’t treat it like an autopilot no no we just name it that to confuse and mislead you) and any other complete driverless car solution. With a proper blade guard and how slow it’s going it would be really hard for this thing to cause more then a minor scratch.

    That said I think I might fall asleep before this thing finishes the back of my neck.

    1. +1 – I’d trust this way before I’d trust a driverless car. It might give you a scratch, rather than cause death to yourself or others at a moment’s notice. Then again, I’m betting that robot is capable of more speed / force if directed to do so…

  2. That reminds me of VERY old joke, probably from before WWII

    Inventor presents automatic beard cutting robot with razors, and investor asks:
    – Hmm, but everyone has different face, won’t this be a problem for this robot?
    – Just until first use.

        1. Even if a robot did know asimov’s laws, it still has to have a great enough awareness of the environment and the laws of physics to be able to predict what situations might lead to a danger where the laws could be called upon. Asimov’s laws are pretty useless without some top quality sensor data and a good predictive model to work from.

          1. Well I was being a bit tongue in cheek. Asimov’s laws are not practical because people often don’t know what’s good for them anyway, so how is the poor robot to know? Will a robot stop you from overeating because obesity harms you? The laws are more literary device than programming directives.

          2. Asimov’s Laws were *always* useless, which is obvious to anyone who reads his stories rather than just bringing up pop culture knowledge. Because every Laws story describes another distinct, logical and inevitable way that they fail, despite being “perfect”. They never fail because they were improperly implemented, they fail because it’s inherently impossible for them to work in the first place.

            They’re a cautionary tale, not an instruction manual.

  3. Robotics should be used to empower people, not replace them. Driverless cars, freeing people’s personal time, is a different thing. This narrative about automation should get more moral education.

      1. There is no moral code but there exists moral education and conduct. Scientists and engineers are followers of science and application, which are in turn the descendants of philosophy and reason.

        People who choose to create and develop solutions with technology should not be driven by money promised by random capital needs. They should be driven by humankind’s needs. That is why engineers should always inquire about the possible uses of the technology they develop.

        I know that money can impose powerful pressure on developers but let’s not forget who does the actual work.

        1. Idealism vs reality. Everything is driven by money. Capitalism (controlled) is the only way to spread resources / food / etc to every member of society, despite it’s flaws. It is also the best way to motivate every individual to innovate.

          To conclude, my point is innovation will happen, whether or not you agree with it. And where is the motivation for this innovation? money. The only way your moral code will work is in an authoritarian government.

          1. Can absolutely follow your argument. But innovation happens also without money and capitalism behind it. People have an inner drive to improve something. You can see it whenever you watch a child and for them money is worthless. As soon as money becomes the only motivator, research will only be carried out where it brings financial benefits. regardless of whether it benefits mankind or not.

    1. All technology will disrupt someone’s line of work. What one person sees as being replaced is to everyone else empowerment.

      Self driving cars are a perfect example. While they will overall reduce the time spent by humans dealing with driving and therefore “empower” everyone they will for certain replace all bus, taxi and truck drivers. Why are the jobs of professional drivers any different than hairdressers? There are probably more of them and the shifting job market will have just as large of an impact on them as it would barbers.

      Technology will always eliminate some jobs. That process is what allows us to live in cities and have computers with the internet to talk about it. The alternative is individual subsistence farming with none of the healthcare and other benefits we enjoy living in this century.

      1. I can drive my car myself, I do not hire a professional driver to do it. But I cannot cut my hair myself, so I hire a hairdresser to do it.
        In the first case, a driverless car will save me time and effort. It will not affect any professional driver.
        In the second case, a robot that can cut my hair will replace the hairdresser.

        Thus, these two case are totally different in the aspect of empowering people in that only the first one does so.

        Also, technology itself does not eliminate any jobs. In fact, only the use of technology can do as such. Those who have developed and use technology are the culprits. It is fine if some jobs get extinct because there is no need for them anymore in society but it is not fine at all if some random capital needs make the choice of eliminating them in order to make more money exploiting the today’s vast social and financial differences among people.

        Money does make the world go round. It does not care for people, though. Healthcare and benefits is a product of some people’s lawmaking and, sadly, with quality in decline nowadays.
        Just let us not forget the people when considering and judging, not only money.

        1. There is quite a few things wrong with your argument:

          – Quite a few people know how to cut their own hair. What about the hairdressers in your example?
          – Quite a few people don’t know how to drive a car or cannot. What about the taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers, etc, in your example?

          Lets add those cases into your logical example:

          – “In the first case, an auto hair cutter will save those people time, it will not affect any professional hairdressers”
          – “In the second case, a robot that can drive itself will replace the professional drivers”

          Thus these logic is not sound. It only works if you put it in your narrow scope, but falls apart in contact with real world scenarios.

          1. I did not say that my example was universal. In my very subjective opinion, the case described in it seems to cover most usual cases. One needs to be very exhaustive to cover all cases.

            Concerning the very specific cases you mention:

            – Never in my life (I am 33) have I ever met a person who cuts their own hair. Even the stingiest people find a relative or the cheapest hairdresser to cut their hair. If that case exists, it is especially rare in my opinion and should not be taken into account.

            -The people who own cars also most always drive them (that’s why I said “my car”) and those people will benefit from not having to drive. You are describing a totally different case of people who probably don’t own a car. The possibility that they will spend the money to actually buy a driverless car and thus pay and care for it instead of renting a such service from a professional driver, depends on the sales pitch and financial benefits (which is cheaper and hassle-free).

  4. I guess this will work a bit if you don’t move, ever. A lot of the skill of hair cutting is understanding how the hair will drape. Fundimental to that is extending the hair before cutting it. A robotic flowbee like device would be much better than this shaver.

    1. Robots have been shearing sheep for many years now, they injure the sheep less than humans do. Have you seen the simulated hair and fur in modern animations? Computers know hair and how it drapes, for sure!

      1. Shearing is not the same as hair cutting. Shearing is the removal of all hair, at the threshold of skin. IT does not need to model hair drape. Even at a distance, given the density of wool. Human hairdressers, however, don’t just follow the contour of the skin, the have to think about how hair moves as they cut, and the distance of tool to head is not indicative of hair length (due to gravity).

        As a guy who writes software: It’s much much easier to model a path than a path + hair physics.

  5. So what happens when the grey code wheel inside the arm gets covered in some human sweat/oil and hair fragments.

    I’m interested in the failure mode protections for direct human machine interfaces. There should be triple separate feedback loops in the fail safe systems, machine visual feedback, strain gauge to measure the pressure at the human machine contact point and possibly a sub mm radar to confirm predicted distance matches measured distance (in case the human sneezes, coughs, inhales or exhales). And a constantly updated plan of action for every predicted failure mode on a hairpin trigger (e.g. Motor A fault, withdraw at 45 degree angle far enough so that any failure can never contact flesh of the victim^H^H^H^H^H^Htest subject and any near humans or animals)). Or use multiple high resolution IR Kinect type sensors or LIDAR to fully monitor the space.

    The real problem with a machine operating in direct contact with a human is when things do not behave as expected. Nothing remains in specification forever, parts will fail.

  6. I’m all for robotics and hair, but not with this arm. These arms have extremely high torque and is extremely rigid. They are also prone to gimbal lock. In a gimbal lock situation, a robot can swing 360degrees at high speed in an attempt to goto it’s target orientation. You don’t want something that is extremely rigid with high torque to be around a small squishy target.

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