Robots are increasingly helping out in retail environments. They can flip burgers, deliver packages, provide security, and restock grocery shelves. And now, in certain select Target locations in California, Minnesota, and Texas, they’ll give you a $10 manicure—$8 for your first appointment.

Target has partnered with the robot design company Clockwork to install robot manicure machines in six Target stores, to start. Looking somewhat like a large, table-top soft drink dispenser, the machine scans the user’s hands, then leverages 3D modeling technology to apply the lacquer, one nail at a time. Each nail takes about 30 seconds; the whole process takes around 10 minutes—about one-tenth of the time needed to get nails done in a salon.

This is a “MiNiCURE,” as promotional materials say, not a full manicure. The machines don’t remove polish, file or buff nails, or push down cuticles. They don’t even apply a top coat. All they promise is a simple, robot-applied paint job, full stop—a promise that beauty editors have more or less unanimously raved about, in the dozens of articles with variations of the headline “I got my nails painted by a robot.”

Clockwork was launched in 2018, by a couple of software engineers who met while working in Dropbox’s machine learning division. The CEO and co-founder Renuka Apte said she came up with the idea because she felt like she was wasting so much time sitting in salon chairs and wanted an alternative. “I felt like a fresh coat of paint should be as easy as getting a coffee,” she explained.

The first prototype came out a year later. When COVID-19 arrived soon after that, touchless manicures started seeming like an even better idea.

Target’s six machines may be many people’s first encounter with their new robot manicurist. But Apte recently told Yahoo Finance that Clockwork is booking orders for 2023, “because we’re backed up that much with the demand that we’ve got.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the advantage of a robot manicure over a traditional manicure?
  2. Do you imagine robot manicures taking the place of traditional nail salons?
  3. Are there other beauty and wellness treatments you can imagine being done by robots?

Source: Matthew Stern, “Will Robots Nail in-Store Manicures at Target?” RetailWire, September 8, 2022; “Yahoo Finance Video Clockwork Partners with Target to Install Automated Manicure Machines in Stores,” Yahoo Finance, September 2, 2022; Ritukar Vijay, “Robots in Retail: Delivering the Goods in 2022,” Robotics & Automation News, July 27, 2022; Lisa Fickenscher, “Robots Will Restock Grocery Shelves in Hundreds of Stores Amid Labor Shortage,” NY Post, August 9, 2022; Omenaa Boakye, “Wait, What’s the Clockwork Manicure?” InStyle, April 25, 2022; Renee Rodriguez, “I Tried a Clockwork Manicure and Had My Nails Painted by a Robot,” POPSUGAR, September 2, 2022; Alex Barreira, “Nail-Painting Robots? Startup Is Testing the Market,” bizjournals.com, June 14, 2021