Shopping online has skyrocketed during the pandemic, highlighting its benefits – and shortcomings. Ordering goods is incredibly convenient until you know your size for clothes and shoes. But Volumental wants to solve the latter problem by soon launching a mobile app for iPhone 12 Pro owners that will scan their feet in 3D to recommend the correct shoe size every time.
And while the Volumental mobile app will only be compatible with the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max in the coming months, it will be compatible with older iPhones by the end of the year.
The app isn’t just aimed at consumers – it’s essentially a mobile version of the proprietary foot scanner that Volumental sold to high-end shoe retailers like Adidas, Allbirds, Bauer, Fleet Feet, Road Runner, The Athlete’s Foot, and others for install them in their stores. With the scanner – a gray slate the size of a bath mat with four cameras and sensors pointing towards the middle – the employees take detailed measurements of the customers’ feet, typically as a consultation, in order to sell body-hugging insoles and the right shoes for their physiology and to find out movement patterns or patterns.
And without all of the data generated by the retail scanners, we wouldn’t have the new mobile app.
“One of our strengths and what sets us apart is that we have scanned nearly 10 million people around the world with our retail scanners and we are represented in 42 countries around the world,” Volumental co-founder and CTO Alper Aydemir told TechRadar and stated that linking all of this data to consumer purchases “enables us to really understand how each shoe fits and what type of shape fits each shoe best”.
And not just the shoe types, but also the differences in shoe sizes, which can get bigger or smaller at irregular intervals – maybe the jump from a US 9 to a 9.5 is a smaller jump for men than the change from a 9.5 on a 10, which is an inconsistency you wouldn’t catch unless you had such a large record.
Consumers will benefit from all of this data and will scan their feet with their own phone when the Volumental mobile app launches in the coming months (scheduled for “summer” or later in the second quarter of 2021). Initially, only owners of the latest iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max phones can use the app thanks to its state-of-the-art LiDar and other sensors, but compatibility will open to older iOS devices towards the end of 2021 – and an Android version will follow after that , possibly by early 2022.
(Photo credit: Volumental)
Scan feet with the latest iPhone technology
The Volumental mobile app takes advantage of advances in cell phone augmented reality software to add AR markers to scans of a user’s foot, then creates a 3D model for comparison with their database. At some point the app will be open to all models, but they start with the most powerful iPhone on the market to perfect the scanning software.
“It has the best CPU, it runs the fastest, so it makes sense to start from there and get everything working properly before you tackle anything else,” said Aydemir. “This is what I’ve seen in my career, the best strategy: you make one thing work really well before you try to rely on different things at the same time.”
Prior to co-founding Volumental, Aydemir worked on Google’s 3D mapping team for Project Tango and also worked on the 3D scanning app for mobile phones at NASA. His experience contributed to Volumental’s decision to use his mobile app but not rely on the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDar sensor – which made the phone’s ARKit software find an interface for deep scanning much faster, but on older and older ones fewer premium phones.
In fact, Volumental had to develop its own version of ARKit (which was really not designed to scan body parts) in order to stitch together images that the iPhone stitched together to the sub-millimeter into a 3D model of a foot – because if those camera positions are only one a little off, said Aydemir, the model is useless.
Volumental’s proprietary retail scanners generate a ton of data, including measurements for foot size, instep height, heel width, arch height, and more, but the mobile app focuses on shoe size – which is already the largest measurement consumers care about. Currently, the mobile app is able to perform scans with an accuracy of 5mm or half a US shoe size for 90% of the users of the app.
This may sound like a noticeable variance, but it is far better than having consumers guessing their shoe size for different brands, which contributes to dissatisfaction and returned goods. In today’s e-commerce, response rates can be up to 50%, Aydemir said. The mobile app is designed to take the guesswork out of using Volumental’s dataset and keep expanding it as consumers scan more new shoes and add them to the collective.
“In our system, it only takes 10 to 12 purchases to get the best referral level,” said Aydemir; By the time they reach that threshold of scans, they have a few other tricks to suggest the size to the first consumers who want to buy this shoe, such as comparing the new shoes with similar models from the same brand.
(Photo credit: Volumental)
The future of body scanning
Volumental was already in the process of developing a mobile app version of its retail scanning technology when the pandemic broke out, so it would be imprecise to say they are releasing it to take advantage of the surge in online shopping.
In fact, its B2B focus means that while the app is available to consumers, it will likely be offered to more retailers. Volumental already has companies testing the mobile app – and while Aydemir refused to give any names, the company’s history of shoe retailers and brands suggests that big names could become official partners.
But the mobile app still holds a lot of promise for consumers, especially those who are unwilling or unable to shop in person as shopping opens up in store. And with few (if any) apps available to help consumers determine their shoe sizes across many brands, Volumental could help many shoppers.
“We’re almost into this MySpace era of e-commerce. You just get the same branded product page no matter what it is. But when it comes to running shoes or shoes in general and clothing, it has to fit you, ”said Aydemir. “Our goal is that people love their fit.”
That “fit” could include other body parts as Volumental is considering expanding into other clothing niches that Aydemir sees as fertile terrain as FitTech expands. Perhaps that means that one day the Volumental Foot Scanning app will allow you to scan your wrist for watches, head for hats and helmets, legs for pants, and torso for shirts and jackets – or maybe back-end technology will empower someone else’s app to do the same.
What is clear is that soon your phone will help you shop better for shoes and, one day later, the rest of your wardrobe.