Robot Manicurists

A recent Nielsen report revealed that when people are asked what they’re most eager to do after pandemic restrictions lift, hitting the nail salon was #2, right after going back to church. Manicures are a $10 billion dollar business in the U.S. and several startups think they’re ripe for automation. Nimble, the closest to market-ready, plans to put robot manicurists into homes sometime this year.

At least two other companies are working toward the same goal. All three have software using a database of nail shapes and sizes along with cameras and sensors that distinguish between nail and skin. Once the software figures out where the fingernails are, the robots can paint the nails perfectly every time.

All the current candidates are focusing on software rather than hardware and trying to keep the hardware simple to avoid maintenance.

Why would you want a robot manicurist?

Nimble says it can get a new color painted and dried in 10 minutes. This is a lot faster than a typical nail salon appointment. Clockwork, a company which has a pop-up shop where customers can test the machine, is charging $7.99. They expect to set up their machines in stores, offices, and apartment buildings, offering a quick-polish for about $10.If they keep that price when they roll out the final product, it would be cheaper than the average human-done manicure, too.

Faster and cheaper are always appealing. So far they appeal to investors, who are bankrolling several different robot manicurists. Will they also appeal to consumers?

The home version might be the most customer-friendly, since the robot manicurists only do color. A human manicurist will also shape and buff nails, attend to cuticles, and massage hands with lotion. The sense of being pampered and cared for is part of the service being paid for. You might not get that feeling from a robot.

No conversation, either, though Clockwork is using that as a selling point.

Will they take jobs?

A quick color change or repair in between manicures is the concept here.

Because they don’t do a full manicure, their makers say that they won’t threaten the jobs of the 155,300 manicurists who were working in 2019, though there may be fewer post-pandemic. The robot manicures will be a quick, inexpensive additional service.

Maybe nail salons will set up a station to serve people in a hurry.


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