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Smart Augmented and Virtual Reality Marketplace for Furniture Customisation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FURNIT-SAVER (Smart Augmented and Virtual Reality Marketplace for Furniture Customisation)

Reporting period: 2015-02-01 to 2016-03-31

The European furniture market has undergone dramatic changes in the recent past, with a relatively cottage industry populated by many small companies becoming increasingly dominated by the growth of bulk retailers. The traditional nature of the furniture industry and the limited incorporation of ICT tools, have further reduced the ability of SMEs in the sector to innovate and respond to the competition.
These small companies have been unable to compete with the economies of scale advantages that larger retailers can offer. These scale advantages come from offering a wide range of standardised products and selling them to many people. These larger companies also tend to offer relatively cheap and impermanent products that can be replaced if they do not fit the customer's needs.
A potential competitive advantages for smaller furniture companies is the ability to provide customised goods that meet the customers' demands and are of greater quality and durability. However, as it is impossible to envisage how the furniture will look and fit into the customers home, customised furniture also bears an expensive risk if the final piece of furniture does not meet the customer's needs.
Recent developments in virtual and augmented reality technologies offer furniture SMEs the opportunity to remove these risks. Allowing the customers to see the customised furniture in their home environment and to adapt it to their own particular tastes and needs by using an automatic recommender system, will give creative SMEs a competitive advantage over larger companies.
The FURNIT-SAVER project will make use of VR/AR technologies, recommendation engines and a user interface to produce a smart marketplace for furniture customisation. It will enable customers to make accurate 3D plans of the rooms they wish to design, recommend, customise and visualise different furniture, before visualising it in their home environment using Augmented Reality.
FurnIT-SAVER project spanned over a duration of 14 months where the use of agile methodologies and mock up artifacts showing different functionalities allowed the consortium to quickly extract conclusions from users’ feedback in order to adapt the final platform to detected needs and preferences. During the project the Furnit-SAVER platform was developed by integrating different existing technologies with specific technical contributions to improve the furniture purchasing process allowing for an effective full online selling process when desired. Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) technologies were combined with recommendation strategies and image processing techniques to produce a furniture marketplace that allows for a customized furnishing. The project ambitioned to achieve an integration of techonologies reaching Technology Readiness Level 7 which, toghether with the system validation conclusions obtained at the end of the project, set the basis for the fast development of full operational services in short time. The validation was performed for six different use case scenario including domestic and professional users in online or blended (online and onsite) scenarios as well as salespersons from retailers and furniture manufacturer companies. A total close to 300 users and stakeholders tested the platform providing their feedback and recommendation for improvements, which provided valiuable insights to define a feasible route to market strategy.
The final FurnIT-SAVER platform provides a set of functionalities and tools aiming to enhance user experience during the purchasing process either on line or on site providing to small and medium manufacturers and retailers a virtual showroom where to configure users' designs increasing satisfaction and minimizing product returns. To accomplish these targets, several specific innovations were developed:
• An improved web-based tool for the creation of virtualized environments based on automatic 3D rendering of 2D layouts where the user can replicate the space to be furnished by defining room edges and sizes as well as room elements such as doors and windows.
• A user-friendly web-based method to ingest scaled 3D furniture models and its different configurations and customization properties.
• A virtual reality environment providing an improved user experience through the access to 3D furniture models provided for manufacturersuse allowing custmers to customize several furniture attributes
• An Augmented Reality mobile app with access to the user’s created accommodations for a simulated visualization of the different selected furniture items in combination with the real world.
• A backend recommender service to provide personalized furniture recommendations using collaborative filtering based on furniture properties and experience from previous users.
• A low-cost 3D furniture service generation based on the integration of existing technologies for image acquisition and processing providing relatively low quality 3D models used as inclusive tool for non-digitize manufacturers.