Arduino-powered nail art is now a thing


These embedded nail extensions can help someone with behavior modification and programmed reminders.


“Getting your nails done” once was a ritual that determined a person’s social status, which through the years has evolved into a form of expression and aesthetic enhancement. Today, a vast majority of women go to the salon every few weeks or so to change their nail design. And that’s not all that has changed, the options available have grown quite extensively, not just in terms of colors but materials as well. But it looks like acrylics and gel overlays are so 2014.

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That’s because Jenny Rodenhouse and Kristina Ortega have discovered that these temporary extensions make for an interesting canvas to tinker with tiny electronics. Combining the context of salon culture with the popularity of nail art, the Maker duo designed a set of touch augmentation nail extensions and a next-generational sensor parlor to go along with it.

The aptly named Sensor Salon is a project that proposes a new service model for the making and customizing of wearable devices. Inspired by the nail culture, manicure process and DIY lab business models, both Rodenhouse and Ortega imagine a physical sensor shop that allows patrons to explore new services that support the growing population of body-adorned technology. People will be given the ability to personalize and modify their wearables as they please, from how it behaves to how it appears, with the help of trained technicians. Ideally, this hypothetical pop-up shop would feature a manicurist, a designer and a development team to handle the coding of the sensors.

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Customized interactions and personalized behaviors embedded onto the nail can take on complex roles depending on the needs of the user and the expertise of the salon’s staff. Not to mention, 10 different fingers means 10 different possibilities!

These sensor-laden attachments will be capable of providing biofeedback, monitoring health and fitness, assisting with behavior modification and performing programmed reminders, among various other use cases. For example, these add-ons can buzz the fingertip of a smoker trying to kick the habit each time they reach for a cigarette. This would be achieved using two XBee modules — one placed on the pack of cigarettes, another attached to the user. If the two microcontrollers come within a predefined distance of each other, the wearer would then receive instant vibration feedback to their nailbed.

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Throughout the process, the creators experimented with various forms and sensors using an Arduino Uno (ATmega328). Based on their prototypes, Rodenhouse and Ortega finally arrived at five different extensions capable of augmenting a person’s touch and behavior. These included the combinations of an LED and piezo buzzer, a flex sensor and vibration motor, an Xbee/distance sensor and vibration motor, an Xbee/distance sensor and audio module, as well as video and audio modules.

As you would expect, the pair has already received some unique requests. So far, they have incorporated flex sensors and 3D-printed breadboards shaped like cats with LEDs and a nano pixel embedded into the designs. The idea for the project was originally conceived out of an Art Center’s Media Design Practices course called Wearable Ecologies, which examined the possibilities and challenges of wearables.

Interested? Head over to the Sensor Salon’s official page to learn more, or just watch the video below!

3 thoughts on “Arduino-powered nail art is now a thing

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