I can't go out tonight, the robot is washing my hair

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


  1. I know as a guy I’d just shave/buzz my head if I lost fine motor control, but I can see how this would be beneficial to women (or people who place a larger emphasis on their looks).  Hell I already cut my own hair (ie, short) cause I’m to tight to pay someone to do it… and now it’s also cause I’m broke.

    While having nice things in life really is nice, it is the little things that make life that much better.  You only really understand when you don’t have them anymore.  Like wearing a cast and not being able to get it wet, shower time sucks.

  2. Never mind just fine motor control. Amputees? Those with MS? Getting your fingers massaging your scalp is more than just fingers.

    Same with the head-shave idea, bcsizemo. Now we have to get those cah-RAYZEE Japanese to attach shaver heads. Stat!

  3. I heard the government is giving out millions of dollars to study fruit flies! Can you believe it?

  4. I agree that I HATE the whole “oh, those crazy Japanese” thing … and it’s very easy to dismiss something that you can’t see a need for, but other people would find extremely helpful or practical.
    Only one issue with this post: Panasonic is a private company, not a government agency. Whether you think the government should be funding research to help people with mobility issues or not, give some credit where it’s due here.

  5. I feel kind of dumb now for thinking “Wow… do we really need this?” when I first saw the post. Glad I clicked on it.

  6. There is something slightly xenophobic about investing so much in creating robots to do menial tasks rather than importing labor to preform basic tasks like washing the elderly and disabled.

    1. As a disabled person, I would much rather have the independence to do this sort of thing myself (with the help of a robot) over relying on another person. Where you see it as something frivolous, I see it as a way to retain as much of my normal life as I can when I lose more use of my body. Relying on other people for basic things is one of the shittier parts of being disabled that able-bodied people seem to overlook. 

    2. Alternatively, there’s also something slightly unpleasant about thinking you can always import some foreigner to do the menial tasks nobody in your country wants to.

  7. Only upon rescanning this due to somewhere else being down did I see the real message in this story.

    Which is kind of apt.

  8. This is a great idea. As Angela said earlier, it allows people the dignity of washing their own hair. Yes – this would be ‘washing their own hair’ in the same way using a hair dryer is drying one’s own hair, or using pre-packaged mac & cheese is ‘making mac & cheese’ and etcetera. 


    In b4 the  ‘but does it give a happy ending’  post(s)

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