Design students in the United States have designed the nail salon of the future, where customers’ nails would be fitted with sensors to monitor behaviour and provide alerts and tailored advice to the wearer.

Wearable technologies and, more widely, connected objects, are making ever-increasing inroads into our daily lives. A recent high-profile example is the move by Luxottica, the Italian eyewear manufacturing and retail specialist which is famous for Ray-Ban among other brands, to partner with Google in a bid to bring Google Glass to a mass retail market. Mark Curtis, Chief Client Officer at Fjord, the design and innovation consultancy which is part of Accenture Interactive, recently stated his view that the only way for wearables to gain widespread public acceptance is for the fashion industry to start incorporating the new technologies. Now students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California have been developing prototypes of tomorrow’s wearable systems. One of the Pasadena projects, called ‘The Future of Wearable Services’, which came out of the Art Center’s ‘Wearable Ecologies’ course, imagines a nail salon where sensors could be embedded into layers of gel manicure so as to monitor the wearer’s behaviour and provide alerts where necessary.


Embedding sensors into fingernails

The basic aim of the project is to see how new technologies could be integrated into daily life. Kristina Ortega and Jenny Rodenhouse, the Art Center students who developed the concept, first designed nail accessories with objects printed in 3D, LEDs and nano chips. As they explored the potential of their concept further, they added sensors with a range of functions –measuring light, sound and vibration – to the nails. The idea is that they would start working when they are needed. Miniature electronic systems – Xbee sensors, Flex Sensors etc – would be configured and then embedded into the nails, enabling data to be captured through the movement of the fingertips and fed back through the system to provide a range of specific information or alerts.

Innovative, collaborative nail salon

The two Pasadena students drew their inspiration from the level of customer service provided in nail salons. Their futuristic concept envisages a collaborative service bringing together in one place the expertise of manicure experts, 3D designers, developers, electrical engineers and doctors. The nails would inter alia help to provide behavioural reminders – e.g. vibrating when the wearer touches an object which s/he should not be handling, ringing when s/he comes too close to a dangerous object, and so on. Just as the beauty therapist of today provides a highly personalised, tailored service to each customer, under the Pasadena concept the various technicians would work together to construct a sensor-laden wearable item to meet the specific monitoring needs of the individual customer.

By Eliane HONG