This hair-washing robot, introduced by Panasonic at a public demonstration in Tokyo last week, is actually a pretty practical idea. Washing your hair involves a decent amount of small motor coordination and finger dexterity, things that people often lose when they have a spinal injury or other kinds of nerve damage. A hair-washing robot could offer those people a bit more independence when it comes to their daily routines. That's a good thing.
But the real reason I'm posting this here is to show you how easy it is to take research that is objectively beneficial, and make it sound deeply silly and frivolous. All you have to do is show that picture (which is a little funny looking already, right?) and frame the story from the perspective of privilege—the perspective of people who have no problems controlling the nerves in their hands and forget that not everybody shares that skill.
Why would anybody need a robot to wash their hair? Oh, those crazy Japanese and their robots! They should put that money into something really useful. Amiright?
The next time a politician or pundit tells you about "wacky" scientific research that isn't worth funding, remember the hair washing robot, and think about whether the research is really as silly as you're being lead to believe.
Image:REUTERS/Kim Kyung Hoon
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.