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Wayfair takes augmented reality, Project Tango to the enterprise

Sharon Gaudin | May 30, 2016
With the app, customers would be able to see how a piece of furniture fits in their living room.

Virtual and augmented realities aren't just for gaming.

Wayfair Inc. , a Boston-based, 14-year-old e-commerce company that sells home furnishings, is working on an app based on Google's Project Tango technology that would put augmented reality, and one day virtual reality, squarely in the enterprise.

If all goes as planned, customers using Wayfair's app would go beyond looking at a photo of a love seat or table, reading the measurements and wondering how the piece would look in their living room.

The app would use Project Tango's mapping, computer vision, depth-sensing, 3D-motion tracking and machine-learning technology to allow customers to see – on their Android smartphone or tablet – how a piece of furniture would look in their home.

If a customer walks around a room with the app running on a tablet, for instance, it would appear as if the object is in the room and she's seeing it from different angles on the screen.

"This really makes sense for our business model," said Mike Festa, director of Wayfair Next, the company's research and development lab. "It's an extension of our experience. ... It will really help us compete with brick-and-mortar stores. It also should help with the rate of returns because it helps customers see the real one-to-one size of the product."

With online shopping, customers get the measurements and dimensions for a product, but no sense of the space needed.

The new app, according to Festa, should help overcome what is a big problem for e-commerce companies.

"The Tango app lets you see a life-size version of the product so you can get a quick analysis of if it's a good fit or not," he added. "In this case, you can see what a 3-foot-wide love seat looks like in your space, and you can make a more informed decision."

"This type of app shows the potential for augmented reality and how it can be used by enterprises to give their customers a much better feel for their products and even services," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "I can see a wide variety of businesses adopting this approach as the technology becomes better. Architects and contractors will be able to show homeowners exactly how a new addition will blend onto their existing home, for example. Retailers will be able to show you how a particular outfit will look on you. All of this allows consumers to make more informed decisions."

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said he expects consumers will be intrigued with a Project Tango app.

"If the app does everything it says it will do, and does it quickly, accurately and looks representative of reality, then I think it will do quite well," Moorhead said. "Accuracy is very important with this app, and if it's off by a half inch, it could be an issue. Speed is important, too, as consumers don't want to wait around for long... If it doesn't deliver on those vectors, it will become a problem."


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