Jun 25, 2023

Robot manicures and eyelash extensions: How A.I. is attracting new beauty industry customers

By Anna Werner, Analisa Novak

August 1, 2023 / 11:51 AM / CBS News

The global market for artificial intelligence in beauty and cosmetics is already a multi-billion-dollar business, and industry researchers predict it will experience rapid growth of 20 to 30% in the next five years.

But as companies introduce A.I. robots to provide services like eyelash treatments and manicures, questions are arising about potential job losses in the beauty industry.

In San Francisco, a startup called Clockwork has set out to revolutionize the beauty service experience with its A.I.-powered robots. Co-founder and CEO Renuka Apte said that the idea emerged from her own frustration with salon appointments.

"So we really want this to be like grabbing a cup of coffee, right? And that could be anywhere from, like, apartment complexes, to corporate offices, retail stores," Apte said.

Another company making strides in the A.I. beauty market is Nimble Beauty. Its home devices, capable of providing a four-coat manicure in about an hour, have already sold over 5,000 units on Kickstarter. The company emphasizes that its machines improve over time as they utilize A.I. to learn and adapt.

Nimble Beauty's CEO Omri Moran said A.I. is essential for the robots to understand and accurately perform tasks such as nail painting. Without A.I., the robots would only be capable of repeating predefined actions, limiting their usefulness.

"It would be able to identify the specific nails that it has saved in the system versus understanding what a nail is and then figuring out, 'Oh, I'm seeing a nail. This is the shape of this nail. This is the cuticle. That is where the A.I. comes into play,'" she said.

The most remarkable example of A.I. implementation in beauty services can be seen in LUUM's robotic arms that gently handle eyelash extensions.

Nate Harding, LUUM's co-founder, said their robots augment human capabilities rather than replace them, as these delicate tasks take years of development to perfect. Safety is a paramount concern, with the robot arms being designed to be lightweight and attached with magnets.

While these A.I. beauty solutions offer convenience and precision, concerns about job displacement among lash artists and nail technicians have arisen. The National Association of Lash Artists acknowledges the fear expressed by some professionals, but believes that the robots can attract a new clientele for lash extensions.

Apte said that these machines are intended for express services and are not a substitute for the full, elaborate experience offered by skilled human professionals.

"I don't think we're gonna put nail salon techs out of work. And the reason is that this isn't — that's like saying, like a vending machine would put a chef out of work, right? It's like saying that. What we're going for is express services, get in, get out, you know," she said. "It's nowhere close to that full, elaborate experience that a nail tech is gonna be able to offer. There's just a whole gamut of things that humans can do, and this is not that."

Apte's company continues to expand its presence, with two to three more machines installed in new locations every month. Meanwhile, LUUM recently installed a machine at an ULTA Beauty in San Jose, California. Nimble Beauty, the manufacturer of the at-home nail machine, stated that it anticipates the machine to be available for purchase early next year.

CBS News reached out to several organizations representing nail artists to inquire about their concerns regarding robots potentially displacing nail technicians, but did not receive any responses.

Anna Werner is the consumer investigative national correspondent for "CBS Mornings." Her reporting is featured across all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Reach her at [email protected].

First published on August 1, 2023 / 11:51 AM

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