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Welcome To The Future, Where Robots Give You Makeovers

These robots really need to work on their smokey eye.

We’re one step closer to a robot world takeover with “Beautification,” a new group of machines that act like beauticians, applying lipstick and other cosmetics to users’ faces.

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Created by Vienna-based designers Johanna Pichlbauer and Maya Pindeus, the interactive art installation invites you to place your chin on a kind of easel as robot arms holding makeup brushes or lipstick tubes paint your face. The robots are programmed with what the designers call a “numerical formula of aesthetics.” They assume all facial canvases are the same.


The project originated when the designers were students in an industrial design class, called “The Sentient Machine: Where the Digital and Biological Meet,” at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. “We wanted to explore what it means when a machine seems to be alive,” Pindeus writes in an email to Co.Design. “Without us paying much attention, many processes and rituals in our lives have been taken over by machines.” What if personal grooming were next in line, controlled not by your own aesthetic tastes and the human hand, but by an ungraceful robot with its own algorithm-based ideas of what looks good? “We want users to experience what it feels like when delicate decisions they usually make by themselves are now determined by machines,” Pindeus says.

What’s funny about “Beautification” is how crappy its makeovers are. Artificial intelligence isn’t yet advanced enough to mimic real live makeup artists. In a video of the project, one robot jabs a pigment-covered brush at users’ faces, streaking their foreheads and cheeks with black stripes. Another applies lipstick the way an overzealous 5-year-old playing dress-up would, creating big red clown lips. “We expected the machine to be threatening and a little creepy, but instead we discovered a very affectionate side in our robot,” Pindeus writes of this lipstick machine. “It seemed to have its own ideas of what looked good in a human face.”

Thankfully, the Beautification robots aren’t going to replace those hovering human makeup artists at Sephora anytime soon.

The installation is part of the exhibit “Artifact #B,” curated by Noémie Bonnet-Saint-Georges, on display at Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne 2015 until April 12.

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About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.

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