December 6, 2021

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Meet the Robots Ready to Do Your Hair, Nails, and Makeup

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This feat took two and a half years to achieve and costs you around $10 to experience. Clockwork currently has a 10-shade menu, including OPI and Essie classics, and Apte is working on expanding the color range and offering basic nail art, like two-tone designs. She says leasing requests are coming in from major U.S. retailers, office buildings, luxury apartment buildings, high-end gyms, and airports.

For an unassisted robot to touch a human is a big deal. Think of the last time you let something with superhuman strength and limited reasoning capabilities touch you. You haven’t. In fact, it’s not something that’s ever really happened before, certainly not in the form of casual five-minute manicures. But that is just the beginning. A robotics engineer in Oakland — who has been filing patents for brow-tattooing robots and looking into spray-tan robots — spent four years building machines that work in tandem to give you lash extensions in 30 minutes or less (it can take mortal professionals about three times as long). 

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Luum’s robots hard at work applying lash extensions.Courtesy of brand

“Their ‘brains,’ essentially, are built out of all these little calculations that [behave] like the way neurons behave,” says Nathan Harding, cofounder and CTO of Luum. “One [robot] searches for an isolated lash using flexible wire ends and it tells the other robot, ‘Hey, come over here and place an extension.’ The placement robot has to know exactly where it is in space to accurately [lay an extension on top of an eyelash], [and those are] both about a hundred microns in diameter.” (To put that into context, a lash or strand of hair is about 70 microns wide.) If you think it sounds nuts to let robots mess around near your eyes, “That size is big to the robot,” says Harding, whose robots are booking sessions for $50 (actual salons could open later next year).

And then there’s the robot hair salon. You laugh. Maybe you wince. But then you realize: Between Procter & Gamble’s labs in Cincinnati and Dyson’s in Malmesbury, England, all that’s missing is a barista bot and clients. At P&G, to test 2,000 shampoo prototypes each month, MEL washes hair while ALI lathers to see how big the shampoo bubbles get, all before DRF, across the room, finger-combs freshly washed hair to see how smooth it feels, says Stephen Hendrix, a scientist at P&G. (The robot names are acronyms for what they do: Mechanical Electronic Lathering, Automated Lather Instrument, and Dynamic Rinse Friction.)

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