Ever since nail art became so ubiquitous that it’s practically normcore, it’s been tough to make your manicure stand out. But, leave it to self-proclaimed “nail-art junkies” Jenny Rodenhouse and Kristina Ortega to take mainstream manis to the next level — we’re talking techno nails. As MFA students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, they sensed a lack of true wearability in the new wave of tech, and decided to do something about it. “Nails are a canvas that wearable tech hadn’t looked at yet,” Rodenhouse said.
Rodenhouse and Ortega’s designs include 3-D-printed cats and sensor extensions. And, they've crafted attachments that can sense proximity and provide audio feedback, encouraging interaction with your space, as well as sending reports back to the technician when an object is touched. “Feedback and input can be modified by the user — a light sensor measures the amount of light in the room, so when the lights go down your LED nails turn on,” Ortega explains.
Nails could become an ideal location for bio sensors that do everything from track physical activity to help kick bad habits. Think: a vibration motor that buzzes when you reach for a cigarette. There’s plenty of opportunity for aesthetic indulgence too, like LEDs that light up when you type. Considering we already pay for our nails to be sculpted into tiny fashion statements, why not go next-level?
If your mind’s already wandering to the possibilities of a blinking, cyborg-worthy mani, hold that thought for a minute. Right now, the nails are a little too bulky to be truly dexterous; and the duo’s designs still need watch batteries to function. Plus, while many of us are game to forgo certain activities to preserve a manicure (the un-fun stuff, like dishwashing), not everyone will want nails that might short circuit. The pair has begun to dabble with breadboard functionality, the kind of circuitry used to build electronics without soldering or melting metal — which would mess up your nails worse than a full set of '90s acrylics.
High-tech nail art will require a bit of a reimagining of the typical salon environment, too. “We’re setting up a temporary test salon in my apartment,” Rodenhouse explains, to continue experimentation. They’ve dubbed the Silverlake, CA space the “Sensor Salon,” and locals can e-mail to schedule a visit.
“The technicians range from manicurists, to user experience designers, to engineers, to life coaches,” Ortega says. She adds that nail salons could become a "collaborative workshop experience," with programmers coding your nails to be as useful as they are pretty. This may include bio feedback, calendar reminders, or behavior modification, but Rodenhouse and Ortega are particularly interested in what clients can dream up themselves. It’s the ladies' venture to merge the traditionally masculine realm of electrical engineering with the traditionally feminine world of beauty salons, however, that is truly genius. That and the beautiful way they’ll one day put incredible, customizable technology literally at our fingertips.