Automatic hair braider prototype (ongoing developement)
For: Spatial Dynamics client Halo Braid
Role: design lead and design engineer
Traditional African hair braiding is both time consuming and difficult. Having a machine to automate this process will be very convenient for both the hair stylist and customer.
Halo Braid, a Harvard startup trying to tackle this issue, hired Spatial Dynamics to develop the first prototype for initial user testing.
This project showcase the early hardware development and prototyping of the braiding machine.
Initial idea for the hair braider is to use the combination of special hair clips with a vacuum suction storage system to store the hair as the machine braids.
I prototyped this experience out with 3D printed pars:
Clip in the hair in each hair clips.
Insert each clip into the braiding module.
The vacuum will automatically bring in the hair.
Machine will automatically start braiding.
Challenges with initial direction
Although the loading experience works well, the hair is braided without tension compromising quality. Additionally the storage system can only store a short length of hair without getting tangled.
We decided to explore some other options for loading and hair storing.
Spring reel storage
Vacuum clip V2
Vacuum straight tubes with toy braider
After some discussions we felt that the spring reel concept has the most potential for development. Firstly, it offers a storage solution to the braiding hair and secondly, the constant force spring will apply a constant pulling force passively on the hair to ensure the braid's quality.
This mechanism below is the constant force spring, which allows a constant force as the user pull on the reels (unlike other springs that increase tension as the spring is pulled.) We went into full development mode for this concept after the discussion.
Version 1, too bulky the bobbins would pump into each other
Version 2, powered by motors the bobbins would wind automatically
Version 3, added a guide rail for the hair, too complicated, retired in the end.
Version 4, testing different motor's gear ratio that fits best with the spring.
Version 5, added powering system to power the bobbins as the land at specific locations
Meanwhile, we also worked on the rotation system that uses two NEMA 21 motors with encoders to build out the rotation platform. The design feature a sprocket system where the combination of the rotation between the two sprockets pushes and pull on the three bobbins for braiding.
Hair extrusion explorations
After individual sub-system development, we have to figure out integration. The main challenge here is to determine which hair extrusion system to use to ensure that as the hair is braided, new knots are being formed at the right speed and location for a consistent braid.
Extrusion method features two gear roller system that forces the hair up
as the braid is being formed.
The rail method puts the braiding platform on a rail that is computer controlled for better accuracy as the braid is formed.
We ultimately decided to go with the rail method as it is much more reliable and does not damage or squeeze the braid as it is being formed. This is the final setup that we send off for user testing:
The Halo braid system is still a ongoing projects, more updates to development will come in the future.