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Cinderella’s glass slippers on your fingertips: Applying IoT to your finger nails (Part 1)

Blog post   •   Aug 23, 2017 08:29 GMT

False nails custom-made for different individuals

False nails and IoT—who would’ve thought these worlds would ever collide? But collide they have, in the form of Toshiba’s new “Open Nail” project, which seeks to provide custom-made nails perfectly contoured to your nail shape. Think Cinderella’s glass slippers, but on your fingertips. How? By adding a dash of 3D image recognition and 3D printing technology to your everyday false nails. In this unconventional overlap, Toshiba has seen an opportunity to break down walls, cultivate new markets, and establish a new business model.

False nails, by an electronics manufacturer. What gave rise to this unconventional pairing, and how will it be commercialized? The “Open Nail” project, from its inception to its metamorphosis into a viable business plan, existed under the umbrella of “Toshiba Startup,” Toshiba’s in-house start-up support program. Its official commercialization, however, is currently being conducted in partnership with michi co., Ltd., a company that specializes in the production and sale of false nails.

Here, the main members involved in this project have gathered to discuss the history of the “open nail” project, its current state, and their hopes for its future.

“Open nail” project members from left to right: Kyoko Nakamura (Sales Rep. of Toshiba Digital Solutions Corp.), Shun Nakazaki (CEO of michi co., Ltd.), Yasuko Chigira (Toshiba Corp. Technology Planning Office), and Keiko Teraoka (Toshiba Design Center)

“Open nail” project members from left to right: Kyoko Nakamura (Sales Rep. of Toshiba Digital Solutions Corp.), Shun Nakazaki (CEO of michi co., Ltd.), Yasuko Chigira (Toshiba Corp. Technology Planning Office), and Keiko Teraoka (Toshiba Design Center)

High-Resolution Technologies Galore: But Why on Our Fingertips?

Yasuko Chigira: Here’s how it works—Toshiba’s image recognition software reads the shapes and contours of each finger nail, and generates accurate personal data of your own set of nails. Our image recognition technology allows us to “read” the nails more accurately, and our manufacturing technology lets us produce the false nails to our precise specifications. Meaning that the nails will fit better and feel better too. As you can imagine, being an electronics manufacturer, working on something like this gives us a definite edge over our competitors. In the future, we’re thinking of adding our deep learning technologies to the mix as well, and using the data that’s been accumulated to provide services that are even more refined and efficient.

Keiko Teraoka: The generated data of your nails are stored in a cloud system, which will be used to print false nails with a 3D printer. After these printed false nails are decorated by michi’s nail artists, it is then ready to be sent to the customer.

I’ve been involved in this project as a designer from the initial stage when we were creating business concepts and prototypes. But in order to realize this project, we later joined forces with Ms. Nakamura or Toshiba’s sales team and Mr. Nakazaki of michi Co., Ltd.

Shun Nakazaki: Nowadays, there are a lot of ways to decorate your nails—manicures, gel nails, nail stickers… But each of them has its strengths and weaknesses. Getting manicures and gel nails, for instance, generally means you have to go to a salon, which takes a lot of time and effort.

                          False nails custom-made for different individuals in the “open nail” project

Compared to gel nails and manicures, nail stickers are much easier to handle because, obviously, they are stickers. On the other hand, though, because the stickers come in one size fits most, the proportions don’t always match up with your own nail dimensions. And because of that, they tend to shift positions or peel off easily.

And then there are false nails, which you can stick on at home using a special glue. They’re easy to put on, and come in a range of pretty designs. But the fact that they’re easy to put on and take off also means it’s easy for them to fall off and get lost.

Just imagine, a set of false nails that fit just perfectly and seamlessly onto your real nails that wouldn’t fall off as easily, which means you wouldn’t lose them too. A custom-made set of nails, just for you.

Chigira: What we’re aiming for are perfectly fitted nails. To accomplish that, the software has to be able to “read” the image of the nails extremely accurately, down to the tenths of a millimeter. Which is why we need such high-level image recognition and processing technology.

Kyoko Nakamura: It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it yet, but the fit of these nails is just remarkable. You really have to experience it to understand.

The Open Nail Project vs. “Too Busy For My Nails” Syndrome

Nail decoration in modern society is widely considered to be in the realm of women, and the development team is female-centric as well. Were there any hints in your everyday life that led to this project?

Chigira: Yes, in fact, this idea was born out of a conversation with Ms. Teraoka and other female members. We noticed that so many women are interested in nail decoration but have to give up on that aspect of their fashion, simply because they’re just too busy. Also, at the beginning of my career, I was in charge of product design where I had the opportunity to use industrial 3D printers to create trial products. This experience have had my antenna attuned to the evolution of the modern 3D printer and the way it could be used, that could possibly create changes to the manufacturing market in the future.

Teraoka: There are actually a lot of women who are interested in nail decoration. Although its 1-2 hours to get your nails done at the salon, for a busy woman, that time could be spent doing other things. And of course, nails grow, so you have to spend a lot of money each month maintaining them.

Chigira: Working in my current department which is all about cultivating and supporting innovation, what I found important is to focus on providing solutions to problems that users want to solve, but can’t, even with money. What I said before about nail decoration fits perfectly into this category, and so we added a dash of 3D printer technology—and voila! There was the idea for this project.

Teraoka: I remember the first time Ms. Chigira told me about this idea. I thought it was simple and easy to understand. Simple in a fun way, too. The business department I belong to handles BtoB infrastructure businesses, which is obviously on a much larger scale and sometimes I feel like I lose sight of the big picture. In contrast, this project excited me because I felt I was more involved in solving real-life issues that I experience every day.

Nakazaki: In reality, only 30% of Japanese women decorate their nails. The other 70%, whether it be because they don’t have enough time, because it’s not allowed at work, or because it’s expensive, don’t do their nails at all.

What I want to recommend to these women, this 70%, are these false nails. They can put them on after work when they go for drinks with friends or colleagues. Or they can wear them only on the weekends. I honestly feel that these will work around any issue you have that might be preventing you from having more fun with your nails.

When Ms. Chigira first told me about this project, about this clever pairing of false nails and 3D printers, I thought “How could I not get on board?!” since I had been thinking of ways to utilize the 3D printer in my own business as well.

Chigira: The first thing we did with Ms. Teraoka and other members of our Design team was to write a project proposal for “Toshiba Startup”. But when our project was chosen… Of course I was happy, but I also started wondering if this idea—false nails that fit seamlessly onto your own nails—was even something that would make people happy. What if it was just our imagination?

Teraoka: So to dissipate this fear, this self-doubt, we actually printed our own custom-made nails with a 3D printer, and tried them on ourselves.

Chigira: And we were stunned at just how much we liked them! That was the exact moment where we all thought—this is going to work. We all felt there would be a definite demand for it.

As Mr. Nakazaki mentioned earlier, only 30% of the women in Japan decorate their nails. But this 30% has created a market worth 200 billion yen. When we consider the potential of the market and the certainty we all felt, first-hand, that there’d be a demand for this kind of product, we felt there was definitely enough incentive to move forward with the project.

To be continued in Part 2…