While it started as a university research project in the early 2000s, London-based 3D body scanner Bodymetrics had become a real company by 2010 with a jean sizing scanner inside an Oxford Street department store and a deep understanding of data sets for 3D body mapping. Yet inventor and CEO Suran Goonatilake admits it was stuck.
“We had a great business model, but we couldn’t scale. The laser technology was too expensive and unstable,” said Goonatilake, when I met him standing proudly in front of a glowing white, Apple-esque Bodymetrics’s pod at Bloomingdale’s Palo Alto store, its first install in the US.
What changed everything for the company? Microsoft’s motion-sensing device Kinect.
Eight months after reading about Kinect, Goonatilake’s 20-person team replaced its “Matrix”-like scanners made of noisy moving parts that cost a fortune with quiet Kinect-powered sensors, not nearly as expensive as the optical materials required for lasers. In January 2012, he unveiled the new technology at CES, and by March 2012, hundreds were scanned during a Bloomingdale’s demo in LA. Bodymetrics has $7 million in funding from clothing manufacturing powerhouse TAL Group.
Kinect has made 3D body mapping achievable in a DIY hacking project, and Bodymetrics is working to stay ahead of competitors. Techstars’ Kinect incubator startup Styku claims its body scanner is close to being in stores, and has been talking about Kinect’s potential for ecommerce. Goonatilake says he’s in discussions with Microsoft about how to bring a personal body scanner to consumers by the end of the year, in time for the holidays. He even leased an apartment in San Francisco to spend half the year in the US.
Apparel is the fastest growing segment of ecommerce, according to eMarketer, so it’s debatable whether fit is truly a deterrent to online sales. When I met Bombfell founder Bernie Yoo, he said getting a more precise fit for his customers, men who subscribe to a new piece of clothing every month, could help startups like his jump huge hurdles. He said a few iPhone photo apps already have tried and failed to capture body shapes and sizes for ecommerce.
Even without the flashing lasers, my personal experience of the Bodymetrics’s pod was very sci-fi, especially when I emerged to find a 3D map of my body spinning on an iPad screen. The software provided some standard recommendations, like “accentuate a small waist,” and then displayed ideal cuts from J Brand, 7 For All Mankind, Citizens for Humanity, and more.
While having these precise measurements could prove useful, I bet by clicking “yes” to the terms and conditions, some of my data must belong to Bodymetrics. Let “The Matrix” conspiracy theories begin.