By: Jack Neff
Originally Published on Adage
How much would you pay for a smart hairbrush? L’Oreal is about to find out. Its Kerastase luxury hair-care brand is unveiling a $189 digitally connected brush at CES, injecting tech into a seemingly unlikely age-old product.
The Kerastase Hair Coach Powered by Withings, which will be available to consumers later this year, is billed as the world’s first smart hairbrush, developed in collaboration with L’Oreal’s Research and Innovation Technology Incubator. It features advanced sensors and product design from Nokia‘s Withings digital-health unit combined with patent-pending signal-analysis algorithms from L’Oreal to score the quality of hair and monitor the effects of various hair-care routines. An accompanying mobile app gives tips on how to brush hair and customized hair product recommendations.
Of course, a standard hairbrush starts under $5 at Walmart, but L’Oreal isn’t blazing new territory on the price front, not by a longshot. There are already $200-and-up handcrafted boar-bristle hairbrushes to be found. But this isn’t just about fancy materials or eye-pleasing design. It’s about the tech, which was enough to win the brush an International CES Innovation Award from TechTimes.com celebrating outstanding product design and engineering in consumer products.
“I’m not going to tell you that around $200 is not a high price for a brush,” said Guive Balooch, global VP of L’Oreal’s Research and Innovation Incubator. But he said hair brushes already on the market range up to $300 or $400 with no sensors or app, and even when the Hair Coach was tested by consumers without sensors, it performed well. “We didn’t want to make a connected brush that people wouldn’t love on its own,” he said.
But then there are the sensors and algorithms, which he said really do make a difference.
Research by L’Oreal scientists finds forceful hair brushing can cause damage, including breakage and split ends. The Hair Coach minimizes these risks using multiple sensors to provide information on the quality of hair and brushing patterns.
The tech includes a microphone that listens to the sound of hair brushing to identify patterns and provide insights on manageability, frizz, dryness, split ends and breakage. It also uses 3-axis load cells to measure force applied when brushing. An accelerometer and gyroscope further analyze brushing patterns and count strokes, providing feedback when brushing is too vigorous. Conductivity sensors on the splash-proof brush determine if the brush is being used on wet or dry hair to provide accurate measurement.
All these sensors feed data via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to the app, which takes into account such weather factors as humidity, temperature, UV radiation and wind. Factoring in how people brush and environmental factors, the app provides a “hair quality score,” data on the effectiveness of brushing habits, personalized tips and Karastase product recommendations.
The smart brush is really more sophisticated than many fitness bands on the market that may sell for only $40 less, with considerably more sensors and more data collected and analyzed, Mr. Balooch noted.
How much difference will all that data make to people? He acknowledged that it’s hard to know until they try it, but he compared it to the My UV Patch that L’Oreal launched last year, where he didn’t know how much difference it would make until it was in widespread use.
“Now we have information on the UV patch where we see over 60% of the users have less sunburn, and more than 35% use more sunscreen and have healthier habits,” Mr. Balooch said. “I hope we have the same thing with the brush where people become aware of the right routines to use, or those who have color-treated hair or straighten their hair use the right treatments after.”
L’Oreal also will use aggregated and anonymized data to aid in product development, he said.
The company’s biggest consumer tech hit to date is probably the Makeup Genius augmented reality app, with more than 20 million people who have used it to virtually try on facial makeup, with the idea later applied to nails.
“Makeup Genius and My UV Patch both look to be transformative technologies,” Mr. Balooch said. “We hope the brush will be the third.”