This Augmented Reality App Lets You See 3D Versions of Things Before You Buy Them Online

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Virtual reality gets a lot of attention because it offers a shot at Star Trek‘s Holodeck, but augmented reality may end up being a lot more practical and useful—rather than a bulky headset and a Holodeck, imagine Tom Cruise’s sweet display screen in Minority Report. It’s an exciting time for tech geeks, and one of the companies leading the way toward an augmented future is appropriately named Augment.

Outer Places sat down with Lindsay Boyajian, Chief Marketing Officer at Augment, to talk about the company and how it’s bringing AR to the real world.

An Intro to Augment

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Augment, headquartered in Paris, was founded in 2011, which Lindsay jokes makes it “old in startup years.” The company started when its founder, Jean-Francois Chianetta, tried buying a set of speakers online. Like many online shoppers, he wished he could visualize how the speakers would actually look and fit in his home, which led him to create an app that does just that: Augment can be used to view any virtual product in the real world by making your smartphone into a little AR window. Check it out:

The Augment app was picked up for use by Coca-Cola Germany, whose sales associates used it to show cafe store owners how coolers would look in their shops. Recently, Augment took the next step by allowing any retailer to integrate AR directly into their e-commerce platform, meaning that soon you might be able to click on a TV from Best Buy’s website, hold up your phone, and preview the TV in your living room right on the screen, without having to download a new app or leave the Best Buy website.

All of this works on the back of Augment’s 3D engine, created in 2012, which can handle up to 1 million polygons for a single 3D model (triple-A video game titles like Mass Effect or Crysis 3 use about 20K to 60K polygons to detail their main characters). With 2.5 million downloads, Augmented has made the engine into a lean, mean machine.

The Future of AR

One of the biggest challenges with AR revolves around smartphones as a platform: the vast majority don’t have depth-sensing cameras, which allow the phone to figure out where the surfaces of the room are. In fact, the only phone with depth-sensing is the Lenovo Phab 2. Augment gets around this by using dollar or Euro bills as “trackers,” which provide a reference point for the phone by showing it where a virtual item should go.

In a lot of ways, AR is still on the cutting edge of tech: not a lot of people know how to develop 3D models for it, and a lot of businesses aren’t sure how to take advantage of it. The Google Glass was shot down in a hailstorm of mockery and criticism, and products like the Microsoft HoloLens are primarily being aimed at businesses, not consumers. But augmented reality may end up being the next step toward the future—if Pokemon Go’s overnight success is any indication, tools like Augment can open up whole new worlds once they’re integrated with the tiny, powerful computers we carry in our pockets, all without needing to buy a headset.

We don’t know about you, but we’re looking forward to a future where we can see our life-size statue of Yoda before we buy it.

Check out the Augment app here, and sign up to import your own 3D models into the app here