We have robot surgery, robot manufacturing … why not robot aestheticians? Or … lash artists?
I wouldn’t know from personal experience, but getting fake lashes takes 2-3 hours. A new robot can do it in just 20 minutes … snd could eventually do everything from makeup to hair transplants.
In this episode of TechFirst with John Koetsier, we chat with Philippe Sanchez, CEO of LUUM, and we watch his robot apply fake lashes to a client.
Scroll for full audio, video and a complete transcript …
And … here’s the story at Forbes …
TechFirst podcast: robot spas?
Watch: the LUUM lash extension robot in action
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Read: We have robot surgery, robot manufacturing … why not robot aestheticians?
(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
John Koetsier: Tell me, why do we need a robot to apply eyelash extensions?
Philippe Sanchez: Well, John, eyelash extension has become a very popular treatment, certainly post-COVID. But it takes two hours and a half to get a full set of eyelash extension.
John Koetsier: Wow.
Philippe Sanchez: A robot can do the job in fraction of the time. We can do the job in 30 minutes, instead of two hours — with a level of precision, safety, repeatability, that manual applications can simply not offer.
John Koetsier: Wow. Wow. Two hours — I had no idea. I have obviously never gotten fake eyelashes applied. Perhaps I’ll do it now just to get the experience of it. Talk to me [about] how it works. Tell me about the technology.
Philippe Sanchez: So the technology is actually a very advanced piece of technology. It is a combination of advanced robotics, computer vision, and artificial intelligence that together duplicate the job of a lash artist. But it’s doing it in a way that is so much faster, so much safer, and so much more precise than manual application can offer.
John Koetsier: Interesting. Now, it’s a 2-hour job by a human, 20 minutes by the robot. What’s that two hours like if you are the person getting eyelash supplied … that’s a long chunk of your day, right? What’s the difference in the feel of getting it done by the robot in 20 minutes?
Philippe Sanchez: So in a traditional manual application — mainly women, but some guys do it as well — you go into a studio in a salon and you’ve got a lash artist taking care of you. You lay down on a bed and the lash artist, which typically is very skilled with a lot of dexterity skills, hunches over your head and very closely looking at magnifier, isolates your lash with a tweezer on one hand, and on the other hand, takes an extension, dips it in an adhesive and carefully places it over one lash. And then she moves to the next. And then she moves to the next … and then to the next … then two hours and a half later, you’re done, with beautiful lash that looks very natural and lasts for about a month or so.
So it is a wonderful service, but it takes two hours and a half.
John Koetsier: Wow. It’s interesting, ’cause you mentioned that the lash artists have incredible dexterity with their fingers, right? Perhaps some of them have a future in surgery. I’m not entirely sure, and perhaps your robot does as well.
The obvious question clearly is safety, right? You have a robot that is now working right on your eyes, probably the most sensitive part of your body. What have you done in terms of safety? How safe is it?
Philippe Sanchez: So the system is extremely safe, and safety is paramount to the LUUM technology. One needs to understand that you do not need strength/power to manipulate a lash. A lash is very, very light.
And so the prongs or wands that are isolating the lash and placing the lash extension are very, very light — like feather light. And they’re also held by a very soft magnet, so that if they were to touch anything but your lashes, they softly disengage and fall without causing any harm.
So if anything were to happen, that is totally outside of the control of the technology or the environment — imagine an earthquake, or imagine you sneeze, or something — well, if you were to touch those little wands with anything else than your lashes, they’ll simply fall. And that provide[s] a foolproof or can’t-fail safety that is fully embedded in the design of the machine, and is actually safer than humans, because a human you need to react on her to be able to respond to something.
Here, whatever happens cannot simply hurt.
John Koetsier: I can believe that. I can believe that, because I know [if you ever] have an issue or something like that — if you’ve got to detach the robotic arm by those, you know, weak magnets — then anything that potentially happens is very safe.
You use some artificial intelligence in this robot as well, right? Talk to me about that.
Philippe Sanchez: So there are three component that makes the technology advanced and very unique.
The first one is the main mechanical robotics aspect of it. The second is computer vision. And the third is artificial intelligence … and all three combined to a patented and unique technology application.
To understand the complexity of it, on the mechanical side, we place a lash with the accuracy of a few microns. So the robotics is already working at the microscopic level — which, you could argue, some robot[s] in the microchips industry already work at this level.
But here we work with human product, and human products are different from one client to the next, and a human can sometime move as well. And so for both the mechanical aspect of it and the computer vision aspect of it, which requires the machine to work with the accuracy of a few microns, we’re really pushing the edge of what computer vision and robotics can do on humans. Add to that, the fact that one client is different from the next, and we service a broad range of people. This is where machine vision can come in. This application is arguably a perfect application for AI, as a lot of what we do has to do with pattern recognition.
John Koetsier: Mm-hmm.
Philippe Sanchez: Whether it is identifying a good lash, a long lash; whether it is identifying an eye type, or making an aesthetic call — what looks good, versus what doesn’t look good — is perfect application for artificial intelligence. It’s a lot of recognizing patterns. And at that job, machines are very, very good at doing it.
It forces us to do thousands and tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of images to illustrate the different problem we’re going after. But it [will] also underscore how advanced that technology is, and with the service, how we can advance the quality of that service through a robotic application.
John Koetsier: It is interesting to me, because, as you mentioned, we’ve built robots before that deal in extremely small, fine, delicate things; microscopic precision for manufacturing, those sorts of things. But they’re dealing with, as you said, objects … things that, you know, if you make a mistake, okay, you’ve wasted some money; you’ve wasted some time; you haven’t hurt somebody. Now you’re dealing with humans and eyes, and so all that machine image processing, recognition, everything like that — see, okay, this is an eye; here’s the eyelashes; here’s where I place the next one; here’s where the next one goes — very, very interesting.
Philippe, how did you get into this? What’s your story?
Philippe Sanchez: Well, my story, I was brought into this by the founder of the company and the board of the company a few years ago — a couple, yeah, a year and a half ago. And on my early meeting with the team, I was struck. I was in awe with both the technology aspect of what they were developing, and with the opportunity. I could see very quickly that the team was developing a very unique application that would, on one hand, transform the consumer experience. It’s not often where you have such a concrete transformation: two hours and a half, in 30 minutes.
A much safer and a much more precise consumer experience empowered by technology is a phenomenal competitive advantage. The second, is clearly that you also transform the work of the lash artist herself.
Today, it is a tough job that lash artists need to first learn the skills of applying lash extension — it’s tough. You need to have dexterity skills, of course, and it takes two hours of being hunched over a person. And, you know, there’s so many clients you can process in a day, and so many days in a week. It is a difficult job.
Suddenly, you take all the hard part of the job away with that technology, you do it faster; you do it better; but you also allow the lash artist to be rewarded for offering a bespoke service and a high quality service that engenders a loyal following. And that’s certainly much more appealing for the lash artist herself.
And last, for any of us looking at the economics … well, automation completely transformed the economics of the category. You obviously boost your throughputs. For one lash artist or one bed you’re now able to service two, three, four times the number of client in any given day. You reduce your labor dependency and your space dependency. And you transform a business that at the onset is already very profitable, but now you make — or you can offer a level of returns and level of scalability, that simply you could not dream of with just standard manual processes. So that’s what brought me in, and I said, ‘Let’s jump and build this company, and make it a large and successful story.’
John Koetsier: It’s kind of the perfect COVID product, right? Because it’s a personal service. It’s the kind of personal service that has been difficult during COVID, really challenging because it requires somebody literally centimeters/inches from your face, working for two and a half hours … and removes that, correct?
Philippe Sanchez: So COVID is, in a sense, a silver lining for us, for all that we dislike COVID and how it disrupted all of our lives.
When you come to this business, it really, it did two main things for us. The first one is we all spend so many hours on Zoom looking at each other on a camera. And so, and even when you’re outside in the street, anything above the mask is central to any beauty treatments. So, today, the eyes has it. And offering a service that deal with arguably the most sensitive part of beauty expressions — lashes — took a boost of relevance in a post-COVID world. But you also—
John Koetsier: Just pinging in on that one real quick. I interviewed Tyra Banks a number of years ago, and she was doing a thing called ‘smizing’ or smiling with your eyes — so that would be perfect for today.
Philippe Sanchez: Absolutely. So clearly the eyes have it, and being in the lash business today is a good time. And, as shown by so many brands and elite celebrity jumping into the category, and that’s certainly a category that is extremely rapidly growing as we speak.
But you spoke about the other element is pre-COVID, spending two hours and a half with somebody a few inches from your face was perhaps acceptable. It is certainly no longer the case post-COVID. And so the technology gets also a boost of relevance by simply minimizing the time that you need to be in a room and certainly close to a person. It’s sort of perfectly designed for a post-COVID world.
John Koetsier: Mm-hmm. Well, as you know, TechFirst is about tech that’s changing the world, and innovators who are shaping the future. I wanted to ask you: what does a spa look like in ten years?
Philippe Sanchez: Well, for us, a spa will have a LUUM technology in it, right?
John Koetsier: Yes.
Philippe Sanchez: And, will do a good job when any one of us as consumer walks in for comfort, pleasure, and leaves feeling pampered … with perhaps even a boost of renewed confidence ’cause we feel looking very good and appealing, thanks to a beautiful treatment that can last for four months. I think affordable beauty and efficient beauty, where you don’t need to spend a lot of time in the morning or on a daily basis, is certainly in the mind of most of our consumer today. And LUUM will contribute to providing this level of effortless beauty that most of our customer today seek to find.
John Koetsier: Excellent. And, where do you see LUUM playing in five, ten years? I mean, you’re doing the lash extension machine right now, but that seemed to have wider applicability. I mean, the eyes is maybe the most sensitive part of the body, right, of the face itself. So there would seem to be other things that you could use this technology for, perhaps in other form factors, other robots. Are you exploring some of that?
Philippe Sanchez: Yes actually, John, for the time or foreseeable future, we’ve got a chance to really reinvent a category — the eyelash extension category — and build a world-class brand with both domestic ambition and international ambition. We have a chance to build our own chain of studios and also license the technology to key established brand here in the U.S. and also abroad. And that’s step one of the plan and the potential for the LUUM technology.
Now it’s also true that the patent, the first-to-market advantage, and the know-how that the team is building around highly precise application that requires microscopic level of accuracy and safety … this can be applied elsewhere than lash extension. And in the world of beauty, you’ve got adjacent market, such as brows, or spray tanning, microdermabrasions, a range, even hair restorations — a range of services—
John Koetsier: We could both be clients there [laughing].
Philippe Sanchez: We could also be clients. A range of services where LUUM’s knowhow and broad patents, that are already approved in the U.S. and in many countries, can be used and applied. And this will be part of the long term future of the company.
John Koetsier: Interesting. I guess a final question here is, can somebody get this done today? Where can they go to get that done? Or is it a couple months away? What’s the process right now for in terms of commercialization?
Philippe Sanchez: So today, literally, we in Oakland, California, we do have our lab where we work on test client and subjects, every day. And we’re testing now on a broad range of consumer to demonstrate, one: the efficacy of the technology, that it can do the job and that we can do it fast enough. So at this stage, you know, today you could come over or we could show you how the machine apply the light set, already at the speed of a human.
And in the upcoming months, we’ll engage into the second chapter of the company where we take now this piece of technology and both improve the performance in terms of speed, and range of services and products that the machine can do. So in about six to nine months will be time for us to open our first studio to the public and start to provide those services, at least in the Bay Area … then evolve in the key beauty markets: Los Angeles, New York, and some of the key beauty market in the USA.
John Koetsier: Wonderful. Philippe, thank you so much for your time.
Philippe Sanchez: So glad to be here.
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The TechFirst with John Koetsier podcast is about tech that is changing the world, and innovators who are shaping the future. Guests include former Apple CEO John Scully. The head of Facebook gaming. Amazon’s head of robotics. GitHub’s CTO. Twitter’s chief information security officer (yeah, that’s this one!). Scientists inventing smart contact lenses. Startup entrepreneurs. Google executives. Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold. And much, much more.
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