This week Amazon acquired a 3D modeling company, and I’m wondering where this may go in the future.
The company they acquired is New York-based Body Labs, a company with sophisticated technology that enables a 3D model of a human body to be generated based on rudimentary inputs – like a single frame image of a person, for example.
Why would Amazon take on such a company? I think there are several obvious reasons.
One would be to enable their online shopping system to provide an easy way to “fit” clothing to potential customers, as the Body Labs technology could generate a 3D model of the shopper, and then using augmented reality various garments could be applied to show the buyer what they look like and even if they fit properly.
It’s even possible this technology could be used to trigger the manufacturing of a garment that precisely fits the wearer.
But if that’s the case, then it could also be used to 3D print wearable garments as well.
Imagine a scenario where a complex 3D printed dress design could be instantly “fitted” to a client with, say, 95% probably it would fit perfectly. While the dress might cost more than typical fashions, there would perhaps be a reduced risk of the cost of returns.
And there’s another thing: these days 3D printing applications are centered around products that tend to cost large sums, such as aerospace parts or custom medical devices. The reason for this is that the current cost of 3D printing is expensive, and thus these are some of the few markets accessible to 3D printing, while other markets are left to conventional manufacturing processes that cost less.
But it just occurred to me that there is another market that offers very high priced products: high-end fashion. You can buy an inexpensive dress at the neighborhood store, but a designer item made from similar materials (and thus same manufacturing cost) might be priced at many thousands of dollars.
That seems to me to be a market that might be addressable by 3D printing applications, as innovative designs might be expensive to produce, but still be “affordable” within the current pricing structure of that market.
Could this be where Amazon is headed? It’s likely they haven’t thought about this, but if they eventually set up a proper ecosystem with the newly acquired technology, someone is going to do this.
It may also perk up the research on 3D printed fabrics and wearables, which have many challenges. One, for example, is developing mathematical methods of designing unfoldable 3D models that can fit within a 3D printer’s build volume, but unfurl into a usable product once printed. This type of design has been attempted in the past, but is not yet mainstream.
Maybe such technologies will emerge more widely in the future, if the Amazon acquisition plays out.