Can a robot paint a car? Absolutely.
Can a robot replicate painting a masterpiece? You bet.
Would you trust a robot to give you a manicure on your wedding day?
You had to stop and think about it, didn’t you? Despite knowing that robots are masters of precision and capable of levels of detail that evade even the most delicate human touch, it is hard to imagine trusting a robot to perform a task like painting a person’s nails.
While the idea of a robot painting a small surface isn’t surprising, the idea that a robot could pick up a brush, dip it in nail polish, and apply a perfect coat of polish to a fingernail is surprising. Fingernails are all unique. They are different shapes and sizes and curve at different angles. They are surrounded by skin that isn’t intended to be painted. They are attached to fingers that aren’t always steady. For all the precision that robots can offer in the paint sector, how can one possibly do a great job painting fingernails?
The answer is that, yes, of course robots can paint fingernails. They can paint grains of rice and objects even smaller then that. The level of detail that can be painted by a machine exceeds that of even the most skilled professional painter. The Robo-Nailist was introduced in the Fall of 2013 at the International Robot Exhibition. Amazingly, this machine exhibits the dexterity necessary to paint individual fingernails with accuracy and consistency. But aside from just the painting, the Robo-Nailist is able to fulfill the other parts of the process as well. In repeated demonstrations, the Robo-Nailist was able to dip its brush in a can of nail polish, move to the fingernail, and gently paint it with an even coat of polish without any splatter or dripping.
As you may imagine, this isn’t actually the first time that a robot has been used to paint or decorate fingernails. In 2011 a robotic arm performed the same delicate work but was controlled by a physician that had a great deal of experience controlling robotic instruments during medical surgery. Here is that robotic arm in action:
The practical applications for professional painters of this technology are myriad. On the one hand, advancements in paint robotics have led to machines that might be useful in applications from custom art work to sealing nanotubes in an industrial setting. Precision paint work is perhaps the most difficult part of the profession and is always in short supply. But on the other hand, there is likely a gap in the market – particularly among consumers – to have such specialized painting left in the hands of a machine. Even if the accuracy is unlikely to be called into question, convincing the end customer that a machine can replicate the “touch” and “feel” provided by a professional painter is likely to be a tough sell.
In other words, even in the face of advancing technology and accelerated development in paint robotics, the mindshare of clients and end users still sees a gap in what a machine is capable of painting. A wall or automobile seems like a simple exercise so machines can be trusted to do a good job. But fingernails are personal and have nerve endings underneath them…so the machines may just have to wait.