Some college kids believe they’re set to change the hair-care experience, thanks to a virtual hairstylist they’ve designed.

On Thursday night, hundreds of international college students and recent graduates gathered in Paris for Brandstorm, an annual competition asking students to solve a business case for L’Oréal’s international beauty brands. Each participating group presented their vision for what’s coming in the world of beauty and tech to judges from L’Oréal. Prior to the event, they were given a challenge: Reinvent today’s hair salon experience.

While the hair industry is a far cry from the fields previously explored by Penn State data sciences graduate Vincent Trost, senior Yuya Ong and industrial engineering graduate Vamshi Voruganti, the group saw collaboration potential in their research in augmented reality (AR) and used it to enter a prototype for a smart hair salon mirror as one of two American submissions to the competition. According to the students, the technology could easily be incorporated into any salon. 

“As data scientists, we saw the mirror [could be more than] furniture that clients would sit face-to-face with for an hour or two,” said Ong. “Instead, we saw it as a solution for addressing problems we saw in the hair salon industry.”

The mirror, which the team developed by programming facial recognition software to recognize the shape of a person’s face, uses an algorithm to comb through data about popular hairstyles, and then suggests styles that will work best for the user. The timing is right for the mirror, as mirrors using AR to show users how makeup shades will look on them, are starting to get adopted by brands including Sephora and L’Oréal.

L’Oréal’s Brandstorm, which gives a 10,000 ($11,800) prize to the top entries in the brand, tech and corporate social responsibility categories, was launched by L’Oréal in 1992. This year, the beauty brand received submissions from students in 63 different countries; 34,700 students, up 38 percent over last year.

“The student teams, as the next generation of consumers themselves, bring a fresh perspective and leverage their studies in fields including marketing, engineering, data science and chemistry to develop fantastic applications of technologies to solve real-world business problems,” said Sumita Banerjee, senior vice president of talent acquisition for L’Oréal Americas. And, as technology changes the beauty consumer experience and the space becomes more crowded, working with students — like long-standing companies getting in bed with emerging indie brands — is set to give L’Oréal brands a leg up on competition. Past winners have gone on to accept jobs and internships at L’Oréal.

As part of the competition, students submit ideas based on an annual theme in a three-minute presentation to L’Oréal judges in their own country. The top national teams are then invited to go to Paris to showcase their beauty and tech entries to the jury and vie for the prize among international competitors.

This year, teams from India (the Tech Award), the Netherlands (Brand) and Singapore (CSRtook home the final prizes. Submissions focused on hairstyle technology, stylist communication and customer experience, to name a few trends. According to L’Oréal, this year’s competition saw more submissions incorporating tools like augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning to offer personalized hair consultations.

“This year’s prompt was to ‘invent the professional hair salon experience of the future,’ so many submissions focused on the potential of technology,” said Banerjee. “Most submissions now incorporate a mobile app, which reflects that the student teams, digital natives themselves, feel mobile is a must-have foundation for any new innovation.”

L’Oréal is already planning Brandstorm for 2019, and it expects to see AI, AR and machine learning to make an even bigger dent in the beauty industry in the coming years.

Even though their team did not make it through the finalist round in the Paris competition, Ong and his teammates plan to pursue a startup built on their mirror design.

“Through collaborations with stylists, we hope that we can slowly break the barriers between the integration of technology and the beauty industry,” said Ong. “In short, the AI we use is not meant to be automated intelligence or artificial intelligence, but augmented intelligence — to help augment the thought process and amplify the skills and techniques of the stylists.”