With 24 high-tech fingers, Japan robot washes hair 07 Oct 11

(Reuters) – It may look like a glorified salon chair, but a new Japanese hair-washing robot replicates the dexterous touch of a human hand to care for the locks of the elderly and the infirm.

Its creators at electronics firm Panasonic say the machine features the latest robotic technology and could help replace human care-givers in this rapidly aging nation without degrading the quality of the service.

“Using robotic hand technology and 24 robotic fingers, this robot can wash the hair or handicapped in the way human hands do in order to help them have better daily lives,” said developer Tohru Nakamura.

The customer leans back in what looks like a regular salon chair, over a sink, and the machine — upgraded from a 16-fingered version — shampoos, massages the scalp and rinses in about three minutes. Conditioning and a blow-dry add another five minutes.

Nakamura said Japan’s aging society supports a healthy market in care-giving robot technologies.

“We will develop more care-giving technologies for the elderly or handicapped in Japan and will export those technologies to other aging societies, such as South Korea and China, in the future,” Nakamura said.

The hair-washing machine is not available to consumers at this point, and a price has yet to be set. Panasonic plans to start sales next year, targeting nursing homes and hospitals.