The AR revolution in e-commerce and the 3D content bottleneck
by Dr. Max Limper
Real-time interactive 3D content is now everywhere. We’re already familiar with seeing this technology used in video games, AR apps and VR applications. But it’s about to radically change an industry which generated more than $3 trillion dollars in global sales last year: e-commerce.
Just a few short years ago, consumers were offered the ability to buy products online without leaving the comfort of their homes. But if they wanted to really inspect a pair of shoes or some other item they wanted to purchase, it would have required a trip to a physical shop. And there was no effective way of seeing how a piece of furniture would look inside your home without buying it and then hoping you’d made the correct measurements to ensure it would fit inside your room. This is all changing now with the roll-out of optimised photorealistic 3D content that can be viewed on any platform. And it’s started a revolution in e-commerce which is likely to bring 3D content into ordinary people’s everyday lives.
IKEA, for instance, has introduced the AR app IKEA Place, which allows shoppers to virtually place furniture pieces inside their home before buying. Whilst on the upstream end of the pipeline. 3D scanners such as the botscan MOMENTUM allow retailers to automatically digitize their products to create 3D models which can be viewed by online shoppers or business-to-business customers – offering them the chance to look closely at a product from all angles before pressing the purchase button.
The technical possibilities for 3D content in day-to-day applications are now here.
These new developments have only become possibly very recently – which makes them all the more exciting because it means there are a lot of great applications just around the corner. Three years ago, I wrote an article entitled “3D In Every-Day Life: Four Reasons Why It Didn’t Work Earlier (And Why It Could Work Now)”. Back then I said that “for the first time, the technical possibilities for 3D content in day-to-day applications are really there”, while “allowing myself an optimistic look into the future of 3D technology within serious applications that could emerge outside the games market”, such as e-commerce.
This optimistic outlook was based on many developments that were already taking place back then, starting with Microsoft’s “3D for Everyone” strategy that brought standardized 3D content (in glTF format) to MS Office, including PowerPoint, but also introduced Paint3D and a native, pre-installed 3D & AR viewer that shipped with Windows 10.
Just a few months after my article was published, something big happened in the retail sector: IKEA published the first version of its “IKEA Place” app. This was a game changer in many regards because it was one of the first “lighthouse applications” for Apple’s ARKit. It was also a leading move by IKEA that caused many furniture retailers to follow in its footsteps and start to build their own AR apps.
However, despite the excitement and innovative zeal around 3D content, one problem persists. In my original article, I warned “we will need to make the reduction and compression of 3D assets as simple as it is for images nowadays”. In other words, we need a way of quickly turning large, complex 3D files into content which can be quickly downloaded and then viewed on a smartphone or other device. We call this the 3D bottleneck.
The 3D Content Bottleneck
To aid the development of 3D commerce and make it an achievable, short-term goal for retailers, the 3D Commerce Working Group at Khronos was founded. We at DGG were one of the founding members. Others included Shopify, IKEA, wayfair and Target. One of the most important aims of this group is to standardize 3D content workflows for e-commerce, meaning that 3D files needed to serve real-world retail use cases can actually be created in a scalable way.
The first technology which will help to bring about this revolution is 3D scanning. The German company botspot has already invented a scanner called MOMENTUM, which I mentioned earlier in the article. This is a relatively small device which can quickly scan products such as shoes to produce 3D files. At the moment, MOMENTUM needs to be manually operated, but in the future this process is likely to take place on an automated production line which can quickly produce a large number of 3D files at speed.
The second is visualization software like Roomle’s CPQ (Configure, Price Quote) configurator, which delivers real-time 3D product visualisations and then works out a price. This can be used to generate 3D representations of furniture, which can be rendered and then shown in a room. It allows users to specify the material of a piece of furniture as well its size, shape and incorporation of other elements like doors or drawers.
But what’s also needed is a fast, reliable way of making the files generated by 3D software small enough to be seen on every platform, while preserving their high-end look. Which is where RapidCompact by DGG comes in. Our software automatically produces optimised 3D content without the need for laborious manual work. We allow you to process thousands of 3D scanned data sets overnight using a single PC, preparing assets for visualization by drastically reducing the amount of data without a visible impact on visual quality.
The combination of 3D scanners, visualisation software and the optimisation procedures of RapidCompact will truly help to make pipelines scalable, powering an everyday 3D revolution which will change e-commerce and other industries forever. We’re used to seeing 3D content in games and movies, but soon it will become as much of a part of our day-to-day life as pictures are right now. The revolution is here and it will dramatically alter online shopping as well as many other industries. Don’t be a bystander.