The future of nails is now

Last Friday afternoon, two young women emerged from under the pink canopies of Chestnut Street, showing each other their nails freshly painted and glistening with light. Crystal Hsieh and Ishika Nimmagadda agreed that they had just completed the fastest, cheapest paint job yet.

In Marina’s new pop-up Clockwork, AI-assisted robots paint 10 nails for under $ 10 ($ 8 to be exact) in just 10 minutes. Leave a clue.. Within a block, Ciao Bella Nails and The New Nails charge $ 16 for the same service, and a tip is expected.

Thanks to TikTok from Elissa Maercklein, one of Clockwork’s first clients, the fully automated living room became a hot topic in no time. The timepiece will open at 2209 Chestnut Street on March 28 and is booked until the end of July, but those interested in the departure may be able to sneak up on a no-show.

Maercklein using the username @elissamaercklein on TikTok video His visit to the watchmaker the day after the store opened. For clips that have been viewed over 8 million times, Maercklein sits in front of a pink robot, scans her fingernails, and applies a single brown chandelier. The automatic arm is reminiscent of the nozzle of a 3D printer extruder. Move around in a small circle clockwise. Currently, robots cannot cut, shape or polish their claws.

San Francisco-based startup Clockwork claims to have “the first robotic manicure for unstoppable humans,” while New York-based startup Nimble and Los Angeles-based startup Coral. It is not, so it is not the only one. Not too late. With millions of financing from investors in the fields of beauty and robotics, the two companies are developing small household appliances. The three startups have incorporated the use of computer vision and intelligence into their nail painting robots.


Viral videos and the like have fueled the ongoing debate about the role of robotics in society, creating complex emotions. Will the clockwork mechanism be out of the box or will artificial intelligence someday bankrupt human-run nail salons?

Some viewers were tech-savvy in response to Maercklein’s video titled “Living in the Future”. User @ workinonit2 commented: “As a socially boring person, that would be bliss for me.”

But others, including user @ alexandrahunter10, were worried about the future. He replied: She works hard for her business. User @singulartime rang that mechanical robots are unlikely to “completely replace human nail technology because they can only do the basics.”

Clockwork co-founder Aaron Feldstein explains that the Chestnut pop-up was first designed as a kind of “laboratory” where the robot could be placed in front of the general public. But due to its popularity, the clock movement can stay here.

“We have the option of extending this location for six months, and given the demand we’re seeing, I think it’s likely,” Feldstein said. The company also plans to introduce robots to corporate buildings, retail stores and airports.

According to Feldstein, the conceptualization of robotic nail technicians began a few years ago with Renuka Apte, the founder and CEO of the company, who was a female partner and found the beauty routines and maintenance to take a lot of time. time consuming and expensive. I did.

through San Francisco Business Hours, The two met as software engineers at a startup and then worked together at Dropbox. They launched Clockwork in 2018 and raised $ 3.2 million in their first fundraiser in 2019. Within a year, we started testing the first prototype robot using artificial intelligence to recognize the shape of nails and learn while learning. The more nails the machine sees, the more precise it will be.

One of the surprises, according to Feldstein, was the overall reaction, but some of the most frequently asked questions relate to robots in small company nail jobs. He diverts attention from those critics by saying that the company offers express service that cannot replace the salon experience, “there’s room for both.”

“Anytime a robot appears and does what people are doing, I think it’s a natural question,” says Feldstein. “In reality, it is unrealistic for nail salons to offer quick and inexpensive manicure services only. To really make a profit, they bundle all of these services and many more. You have to sell. Great if you need everything else but otherwise some kind of annoyance and inconvenience. “

He suggests that watchmaking machines can play a complementary role in providing a solution for quick fixes during a full manicure.

still gelled

In a world where nail artists are targeted Reality TV-show, “Manicure” can mean more than a normal polishing change. Acrylics, gels, dipping powders, and a variety of other long-lasting formulas are much more expensive, but often more attractive. Market glassThe nail care market is close to $ 10 billion and could reach $ 11.6 billion by 2027.

Hsieh, 19, and Nimmagadda, 20, left the San Jose area for the marina after seeing Maercklein’s TikTok. Both say they regularly choose gel or acrylic nail polish, but I wanted to see what the hype was about the robots.

“If you choose to come here, you feel like you know something fast and want to get in and out, or have a busy schedule,” Hsieh explains. “Personally, I always want to go to the salon, but if I need something quick, I could go to the cog.”

With little to choose from at Clockwork, women did not want to return in the near future. However, Nimmagadda says that if the technology continues to develop, it could become a full bot.

“If they offered the gel, I would definitely go there instead,” she says. “I think our whole future is based on technology. It won’t change. There’s nothing we can do to stop it, so it’s just cool, but people still feel like I want a nail salon. ”

The company says the robot’s limited capabilities don’t pose a threat to the show, but Feldstein doesn’t deny that Clockwork is trying to expand the capabilities of its machines.

“We’re looking at some of the comments and trying to understand why it’s the most valuable to our users,” he says. “Freezing is technically very doable and if we find that the user wants it, we do it. “

Clockwork opened the store just three weeks after it officially reopened in San Francisco. At that time, the local nail salon was able to accommodate clients without capacity restrictions or social distancing protocols. Within a mile of Clockwork, there are over 10 nail salons with skilled nail art technicians, from traditional nail polishes to intricate acrylic designs.

A typical New Nails manicure, located less than a block from the clock, can take 30 minutes or more, depending on your service choices. And you will probably tip.

Marina-based Molly Macgillivray is a longtime client of The New Nails. She says the highlight of her regular manicure is a hand massage. “Here you can also have your back massaged at an additional cost. I always do that. I love it and I think it’s important for the experience, ”says Macgillivray.

Macgillivray’s reaction to nail robots was similar to that of many TikTokers. She fears that as technology continues to evolve, robots could bankrupt her nail technology.

“I’m a little scared of the amount of technology we’ve brought in,” says Macgillivray. “I love helping local businesses and know that many businesses have been shut down during COVID which has had a significant impact on the industry. I don’t like the idea of ​​replacing nail salons with machines. “

through the mayor’s office, San Francisco’s 94,000 SMEs represent more than 93% of all businesses in the city and support more than 364,000 jobs. Also, according to data collected by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, nearly 50% of SMEs remained closed in May. With the city officially reopening on June 15, many local lounges are offering full service in the event of a pandemic.

Tlandan, the owner of Chao Bella Nails next to New Nails, and her husband, Fondoan, are reassured that they still own the store after a chaotic year. Their lounges were typically full of customers most afternoons and weekends, but were closed due to a pandemic.

Since the first closure in March 2020, the couple have had to pay the full amount of the show while the doors have been closed for more than 6 months. They attempted to resume in September when Governor Gavin Newsom gave the green light. Dan paid for all new light fixtures and plexiglass installed between the chairs to meet pandemic protocol, but was closed again in early December.

“It was very hard. I couldn’t do anything, ”Dang said. She and Doan have two young children and their living room is the family’s main source of income.

Dan and Doan haven’t been able to raise government aid for over a year, but got a P3 loan in May. Without their regular activities during the pandemic, they accumulated considerable debt. Chao Bella Nail’s door has been open since late January and the couple are still working on breaking even.

“It’s better than the first and second shutdowns, but it’s not coming back to normal,” Dan says. “I still have a lot of debt. I always rent them because I had no income.

Since mid-June, Ciao Bella has rarely been silent. And Dan says she’s no longer anxious. She is grateful for inviting guests to the salon with unlimited capacity in time for her pre-vacation pedicure.

“I’m not worried because summer is here and people are back,” Dan says.

Words about their new robot competition quickly spread. But after talking to some of her regulars, Dan says she isn’t too worried yet.

“I was worried when I first heard it. It’s cheap and it’s only $ 8, ”says Dang. “But when I ask my clients, they always like people who work with people, not just machines. They tell us what they like.

Yet the future is imminent. Dang says it could be a concern if the robot could possibly provide more services.

“If they even have gels and limes, that would be a big challenge,” she says. “But we’ll see, I guess.”

Lily Sinkovitz is a contributor. @LilySinkovitz

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