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I’ll let you absorb that for a minute. Luum CEO Philippe Sanchez said in an interview with VentureBeat that the lash extension procedure is ideal for robotics because it’s a tedious job for humans, who often have to bend over while adding extensions to each individual lash, which takes a lot of dexterity and concentration over two or three hours.
The Luum robot can do the same procedure — where it grabs someone’s eyelash and adds an extension to it — in under 20 minutes.
“This is a treatment that is semi-permanent that women do once,” Sanchez said. “It takes about two hours to three hours to be applied by a lash expert. And you look very natural and beautiful. And the advantage for a woman is that you do that once. And the whole treatment lasts for about a month or so.”
Sanchez said that Luum developed its prototype robots from scratch. It patented technology that is a combination of AI, robotics, and computer vision. The company adapted it to lash extensions and it is conducting consumer trials and it is planning to open the first stand-alone studios for administering the procedure in San Francisco later this year.
The robot has dexterity on a microscopic scale, and Sanchez claims the process is both safer and more accurate than human eyelash application. During the pandemic, having a robot next to a human subject is also safer than having a human breathing on their client (even masked) for hours. While the robot does replace a person who would otherwise do the procedure, Luum still requires a human to operate the machine.
“The machine doesn’t replace anyone,” Sanchez said. “It’s a tough job today. It takes a lot of concentration, and it is tedious. Now that person can leverage the machine and spend time delivering a bespoke service with aesthetic guidance.”
Lash extensions are popular in the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and China. There are an estimated 34,000 salons in the U.S. that offer the service.
The robot costs about $125,000. That’s a big capital investment for a salon, but Sanchez said it’s a bargain compared to employee costs over a four-year or five-year process. Senior lash artists get paid $250 to $350 for a job, and Sanchez believes the service with the robot can cost less than $200. Over time, the savings could turn out to be quite big for the robot replacements. Since eyelashes eventually fall out, customers have to come back for another service.
“The human can bring a creative touch to finish the service, and they can now serve many more clients in a day,” Sanchez said. “The robot is here to empower a lot of artists to be even more productive in servicing the client and actually doing the job that is much more rewarding. That’s a different view of looking [at] how technology can increase labor productivity.”
Nathan Harding, who founded Ekso Bionics and developed a human exoskeleton before this, founded Luum. Sanchez held leadership and global marketing positions at Nike and Starbucks. He joined the company in November 2019. To date, the Oakland, California-based company has raised $10 million from Foundation Capital and others. And it has 15 employees.
The company has worked on the project for about three years. Harding, a robotics veteran who built the Ekso exoskeleton, met a mentor who decided to start a lash artist business. Hardin was amazed by the artist’s dexterity and thought it would be a great job for a robot.
Last year, the company was able to show that it could place a lash safely on a person’s eyelid. Over the past six months, the company has expanded its robot’s capacity. Over the next six to nine months, the company will continue improving the technology. Luum is making the early robots in Berkeley, California with a team of veteran engineers who have expertise in computer vision. Production machines will be made in Japan.
“We are pushing the limits of those robotics, the limits of computer vision,” Sanchez said.
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