London, May 16 : A California-based company has developed a robot that performs hair transplants in such a manner that it looks more natural than those performed by humans.
Restoration Robotics, the company situated at Mountain View, claims that its robot has the ability to pluck and move individual hair follicles in a manner that makes hair transplants look more natural.
The company also claims that the robot can perform the procedure twice as fast as human clinicians, with less pain and scarring for the patient.
Frederic Moll of the company says that the new robot can do away with the time consuming and repetitive procedure of removing a strip of hairy scalp, separating it into individual hair follicle "bulbs", and painstakingly implanting them in one millimetre wide incisions across bald parts of the head.
He said that his robot instead plucks healthy follicles individually, at a rate up to 1000 an hour.
He revealed that a one millimetre hollow needle removes the follicles using suction.
Guided by cameras and 3D imaging software, the device is mounted on an arm normally used to place microchips on circuit boards, Moll added.
"It understands what trajectory it needs to get follicles out of the scalp, compensating in real time if the patient moves slightly," New Scientist quoted him as saying.
After the "harvest" gets over, the robot implants the follicles into the top of the patient's head.
Officials at Restoration Robotics claimed that, while manual transplants might take around eight to 10 hours, their robot could complete the process in about five hours.
Moll revealed that the robot also had the ability to design a patient's hairline on a computer, which could be important for giving the transplanted hair a more natural look.
"We can be careful about what we put where. You can take an image of the head and let the robot figure out how best to create a pattern that looks most natural for that patient," he said.
Brad Nelson, who works on surgical robots at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, agreed: "There could be some real improvements in hair placement with this robot. Surgeons often do it too perfectly and you can just tell it has been transplanted."
The robot, which is currently honing its skills on volunteers, is expected to be used in full clinical trials later this year.