March 4, 2024

This article is part of our new Currents series, which explores how rapid advances in technology are changing our lives.

Omri Moran was on time for a first date, but the young woman was inexplicably late. She finally got there, but went around the question of her delay and said, “Never mind, you wouldn’t understand,” recalled Mr. Moran.

Mr. Moran, then head of a geo-tracking start-up, was not easily deterred and insisted and discovered the reason: his date had ruined the new manicure they had been given in anticipation of their meeting and tried unsuccessfully to remedy the situation to accomplish.

At the time of the date in 2016, he actually didn’t get it, but the moment also offered some kind of enlightenment. “I’m one of those people, when they see things that are bad, I just start thinking about solutions,” Moran said. “And I was just wondering why it can’t be automated. And that’s how we got started. “

He envisioned a robotic approach to manicure and started working on his idea that year, which turned into the Nimble company. The concept, which two other startups are working on separately, is essentially intended to provide an easy way to provide foolproof nail polish. In addition to Mr. Moran’s Nimble, the companies Clockwork and Coral have developed and different business models to enable customers to quickly change colors.

But don’t give up your regular appointment just yet. All three companies have secured significant debt financing, but the devices are being tested and modified before they are fully launched. And none of the three offer a full salon manicure with shaping and buffing. Still, they could ultimately turn the growing nail care market upside down.

As a market segment, manicure is a desirable goal. It is estimated that the nail care market is valued at nearly $ 10 billion and it could reach up to $ 11.6 billion by 2027. Although the size of the market in color alone has not yet been worked out, investors find it alluring. Like Julie Bornstein, founder of the shopping app The Yes, who invested in Clockwork, the idea caught on because manicures can be time-consuming: “Personally, I don’t like going to the nail salon for 40 minutes.”

The technology includes some hardware – such as, in some cases, a robotic arm – for painting the nails with software that relies on machine learning to distinguish a fingernail from the skin around it. Each company takes a different approach, but essentially relies on scanning thousands of nail shapes to create a database. Cameras in the devices take photos of each user’s nails, a process that is repeated every time a manicure is even performed on the same person. During development, all three tried to minimize the number of moving parts and rely more on software, as moving parts can break over time.

Clockwork is the first to hit the market, albeit on a limited scale. Last Friday, the company opened in a store front in the Marina District of San Francisco, essentially a pop-up location that is expected to be open for at least six months. Customers pay $ 7.99 to try the device, which is slightly larger than a microwave. The soft opening follows a 2019 test run in their office of a previous iteration with Dropbox employees, where Clockwork founders Renuka Apte and Aaron Feldstein first met. (At the time, the two companies were blocks apart.)

The pop-up is the culmination of four years of work. Ms. Apte and Mr. Feldstein first founded their company in 2017, said Ms. Apte, and came up with around 70 ideas before agreeing on so-called “mini cures”.

Your desktop device, intended for shops, offices, and residential complexes, contains a mix of computer vision and artificial intelligence to paint nails. Instead of using a robotic arm, their machine has what is known as a gantry, an older technology that relies on multi-axis movements to apply polish.

They chose the company name Clockwork, which is a play on words that appeals to the penchant for regular manicures as well as the technical delicacy of a watch. The two had worked without pay until the end of 2019 when they secured $ 3.2 million in their first round of funding.

Coral, another company trying to turn the salon industry on its head, received $ 4.3 million in venture funding around the same time. But Bradley Leong, the company’s CEO and co-founder, said they couldn’t get the price of the device as low as hoped in the current iteration that they made it semi-robotic to cut costs.

Nimble has incorporated what is known as computer vision to work with artificial intelligence and a robotic arm to provide easy 10-minute manicures in a device that is also almost the size of a toaster. To increase brand awareness, the company, which started out in Tel Aviv but is now headquartered in Brooklyn, recently ran a Kickstarter campaign and secured it $ 10 million Seed funding also.

As with any robotics, the question inevitably arises whether the devices will replace workplaces. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 155,300 jobs in 2019; The average wage was $ 27,870 per year, or $ 13.40 per hour (before tips). A growth rate of 19 percent is expected without interruption.

None of the futuristic machines are shaping nails so that part of the salon service is not disrupted. Ms. Apte said she did not anticipate any loss of salon jobs as her device would act as an additional service. Mr Leong also said that he didn’t expect his company’s device to leave people unemployed as it would not replace a full manicure.

The three companies have different business models. Clockwork wants to keep the property with its devices for a quick color change in offices, apartment buildings, or retail stores are available for about $ 10, Ms. Apte said. Nimble’s product is for home use and the company plans to sell direct to consumers and in retail stores, Moran said at an intended price of $ 399. (Those who invested through Kickstarter were eligible for a pre-order price of $ 249). Coral is also tracking consumers, but its model is in flux, Leong said, as it tweaks the device to keep prices below $ 100.

The process is quick. Swift, said Mr. Moran, polishes and dries nails within 10 minutes with its proprietary formula. Ms. Apte admitted that while Clockwork’s manicure can take less than 10 minutes, there is additional drying time.

Despite all of the founders saying their devices were safe, they had to check out, according to Tricia Kaufman, a healthcare and life sciences attorney and partner with Stinson law firm in Minneapolis.

Mr Feldstein, the co-founder of Clockwork, said their device has several safety features, including a plastic-tipped cartridge that won’t pierce a finger. It is not connected to the internet so the hacking threat – including Polish rampage – is contained. Ultimately, the consumer is the last line of defense as a hand can be easily pulled out.

The founders all seem to be thinking about brand extensions. For example, none of the companies offers pedicures yet.

But one way to expand their reach seems clear. While women traditionally get a manicure, men represent a largely untapped market that can be receptive to automation. Ms. Apte from Clockwork says: “We hear that they’d rather have a robot do it than sit in a nail salon.”

As for Mr. Moran, the first date was worth waiting for. Dar Moran is his wife now. And, he said: “She was customer no. 1.”