Nail painting robot in two Bay Area Target stores: here’s what it looks like

By Rachel Metz | CNN

One recent afternoon, I tossed a few things into a basket at Target — cereal, graham crackers, kids’ sunglasses — then sat down at the end of an aisle full of beauty items, I placed a hand in a box-shaped machine and let a robot paint my nails.

CNN Business Tech editor Rachel Metz recently tested Clockwork’s nail painting robot at a local Target store. Credit: Noah Brezel

Made by a company called Clockwork, the robot is parked at a Target store in Walnut Creek. Clients – who have booked and paid for their appointment online – stick a hand inside the machine (which looks a lot like a printer) which pipes polish onto the nail, leaving no brush lines. For now, at least, it’s not quite alone: ​​a (human) attendant was present both times I visited, helping to explain the process and cleaning up any missteps from the machine, like polish spills or messy edges.

As part of a small-scale test to see how shoppers are embracing this type of on-the-go beauty service, Clockwork robots were added beginning in February at Target stores in Walnut Creek and the Bridgepointe Center in San Mateo, as well as three stores. in Texas and one in Minnesota. Nail painting costs $10 (although Clockwork is currently offering $2 off to new customers) and should take around 10 minutes or less.

Clockwork’s machines are an attempt to make these robots more common in daily life; they’re for people who want something between a sit-down manicure (which can be expensive and time-consuming) and do-it-yourself nail painting (which, if you’re like me, can be extremely messy).

“I feel like most people who want to do beauty on a regular basis don’t always have the time,” Renuka Apte, CEO and founder of Clockwork, told CNN Business.

To paint your nails, Clockwork’s machines rely on cameras, data, and algorithms. When you put your fingers in the machine, two cameras quickly take about 100 photos of the nail. Apte said these images are used to create a 3D point cloud showing the shape of the nail, and this data is used to determine the edges of your nail. This information is then used by algorithms that determine for example how (and how fast) the machine’s polish dispensing pipette should move to apply paint to your nail.

Clockwork also tags and adds these nail images to a dataset used to improve the company’s nail painting software.

It might not sound that complicated, but Apte said the variations in the stiffness of people’s nails — combined with the changing viscosity of nail polish, depending on how it’s applied — make it a difficult undertaking for one. robot.

The machine uses a disposable pipette that extracts varnish from tiny pre-filled bottles; Apte said she and Feldstein initially experimented with using brushes to apply polish, but eventually avoided them for a host of reasons (brushes tend to harden and can harbor bacteria if left untouched). are not cleaned properly, for example).

Mechanical nail painting
The Clockwork station, and painting in progress. (From YouTube)

Clockwork’s robots aren’t perfect: On my first visit, the polish-squeezing pipette seemed to clog after painting a few nails, and several of my nails were so badly painted around the edges that the machine attendant brushed them off. repaired by hand. It took about 20 minutes to complete a coat of a honey-yellow hue, twice as long as the company’s goal.

They can’t do anything more complicated than painting a coat of colored nail polish – if you want your nails filed or a protective top coat applied to keep your polish from chipping, you’ll need to do that yourself. (Apte said topcoats will be coming to Clockwork’s machines “very soon”.)

Apte said most of Clockwork’s painting problems are caused by people moving a bit after the machines take pictures, but just before their fingernails are painted. This can lead to issues such as polish overflow.

With that in mind, I decided to return to Target for a second polish a week after my first trip. This time I held my hands as still as possible. Maybe that helped: the painting process went much faster overall, and my nails (this time bright red) hardly needed any touch-ups.

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