Holograms are coming to a high street near you
Copyright – The Telegraph – January 9 2016 – By Rebecca Burn-Callander
Walk into a bar this year, and you could see things that aren’t there – and not because you’ve had one too many. Completely realistic holograms, that will be generated when you pass a sensor, are coming to the high street.
Some will be used to advertise, others will have the ability to interact with you, and show you information. In shops, when you find a shirt you like, the technology is now here to bring up a virtual clothes rail showing you that same shirt in a variety of colours, and even tell you which ones are in stock, all using the same jaw-dropping imaging we have previously only experienced wearing 3D glasses at the cinema.
Holograms, augmented reality – which superimposes technology over the real world – and virtual reality (VR), its totally immersive counterpart, are tipped to be the hot trends in retail next year. Pioneers of the technology are set to find increasingly entertaining, useful and commercially viable ways of using it to tempt people into bricks-and-mortar stores, and fight back against the rise of online shopping.
It may not be completely new; the first holographic technology was invented, arguably, by British-Hungarian physicist Dr Dennis Gabor back in the 1940s, and the term “augmented reality” was first coined in the 1990s. However, start-ups have now cracked the methods to manufacture the devices which generate holograms at prices which are no longer exorbitant, and the general public has never been more responsive to such innovations.
The unveiling of the Oculus Rift this year, which will soon make virtual reality available to the masses for the first time, signalled that the technology has come of age. Next year, Microsoft is releasing the HoloLens for software developers to play with. It’s the first VR headset without wires that lets you roam around and holograms appear as you walk.
But some of the industry’s pioneers believe that the future of “seeing things that aren’t really there” has already leapfrogged hi-tech headsets.
Some of the technology being developed by Waveoptics – one of the companies at the forefront of the augmented reality revolution – involves wearing a pair of everyday glasses, rather than the unwieldy Google Glass-type specs. Others are working on systems that are embedded in shop windows, which means there’s no physical object between you and the hologram.
“The technology we are developing can insert images into the real world that are digital but look completely real for all intents and purposes,” claims Sumanta Talukdar, Waveoptics’ co-founder. “Imagine you’re in Disneyland and a digital Disney character comes to life. It seems completely real, a totally immersive experience.”
The Oxford-based company has just raised a “multi-million-pound” round from hi-tech backer Imperial Innovations, and industry specialist Robert Bosch Venture Capital, as well as Octopus Ventures, angels and its existing investor – one of the biggest companies in augmented reality – Blippar.
The cash will help the firm to make the first mass market move in this space in 2016, Talukdar claims. It is about to launch its first products through a partnership with an unnamed corporation “which supplies a number of verticals, including retail, such as Tesco and Walmart”, which owns Asda in the UK.
“We are deploying our display technology in plastic,” says Talukdar, who is reluctant to share too much detail about the products in Waveoptics’ range because of competitor interest. “This unlocks the ability to make it at scale at a low cost.”
The holograms “arms race” is hotting up: in the US, mysterious start-up Magic Leap recently unveiled a video, showing a completely realistic whale leaping out of a digital sea in a school gym. The company has reportedly raised $1bn in new funding, according to Forbes, and is already valued at $4.5bn despite keeping its technology under wraps.
London-based Kino-Mo also claims to be making holograms “affordable and available to retailers and the high street for the first time”. Its Belarusian founders Kiryl Chykeyuk, 29, and Art Stavenka, 30, were recently praised by Virgin billionaire Richard Branson for their eye-catching technology, winning his 2015 Pich to Rich competition, and even appeared on BBC investment show Dragons’ Den, receiving three offers, which were all refused.
“Holograms used to be very expensive and took days to create but ours can be made within hours using standard 3D software,” claims Stavenka. “This is a breakthrough. People have loved holograms for a long time but no one could afford them. We’ve had partnership enquiries from 74 countries.”
Brits may soon be able to see Kino-Mo’s technology in action through a new deal with digital communications agency D-Media, which will trial holograms in 10 bars in London before rolling out to “thousands” of bars, pubs and clubs nationwide if successful.
This will provide concrete data over whether holograms really help to drive up revenues.
“According to the statistics, 70pc of people who go up to a bar don’t know what they want to order,” Stavenka says. “A hologram attracts a lot of attention so is the perfect application is advertising. We will be collecting data about the sales uplift and the amount of times people turn their heads and more.”
The augmented reality market is projected to be worth approximately $100bn (£67bn) by 2020, according to the latest study by ABI Research.
Jonathan Chippindale’s London-based firm, Holition, is already creating augmented reality projects for brands all over the world.
Fashion afficionados may remember their holograms wowing at the Shanghai Fashion Show in 2012, where it created digital catwalk models for Dunhill.
The £2m turnover business develops all of its projects bespoke – no two are alike.
A project with Uniqlo in the US, for example, allowed shoppers who were trying on clothing in front of a “magic mirror” to see themselves wearing the items in several different shades and styles. The colours seem completely solid and real and move with the user, even when jackets are unzipped or the consumer twirls around.
“We are an anti-technology technology company,” says Chippindale, who launched the company eight years ago after a career in the luxury retail sector.
“We do holograms, augmented reality, in-store digital installations, projection mapping and big data, as well as wearables, but we do it all from a user experience point of view.”
Half of the company’s developers are women “because half of our users are female” says Chippindale, and all of the projects are based on the premise that no one wants to look stupid in front of fellow shoppers, so interaction has to be seamless.
Holition’s latest product, FACE, has been used by several brands to allow customers to try on make-up virtually. L’Oreal’s version of the technology is available in its MakeupGenius app, which has been downloaded more than 12m times, making it the most popular beauty app of all time.
Chippindale is critical of many of the technological innovations currently being used in stores around the globe. “Virtual fitting rooms are ugly. iBeacons and Google Glass – I’m not saying the word ‘fiasco’ – those technologies have proved that while it’s hard to develop new technologies, it’s even harder to get people to change their behaviour to use it.”
Holition grew steadily through the recession, and now employs 22 people, and Chippindale says that some brands are embracing the potential of augmented reality like never before. “It’s a leap into the unknown but for brands who get it right, the rewards are far greater than any traditional route.”