Augment, a market platform aided by AR

French start-up Augment has a free augmented reality app for Android and iOS that places 3D objects in the device’s camera view. The idea is that companies can add an “Augment” button to their site that will let customers download 3D models of products and see how they’d look in their environments — home, office, wherever.

So, here’s the story: one day programmer Jean-François Chianetta was thinking about buying a picture for his apartment and he wondered how it would look on his wall. The idea seems easy enough for augmented reality. You can aim your iPad or phone camera at the wall and superimpose an image of the picture. No doubt he said Voila! Except that Chianetta was disappointed when he could find no such app. As a result, Chianetta went ahead and did it himself. He created Augment, an AR application that lets users place 3D objects in a space captured by the camera on their iPad or other device.

Jean-François Chianetta
Jean-François Chianetta demonstrates Augment’s application at SXSW. If you look at the iPad you’ll see the coffee table somewhat lost on that very noisy carpet. (Source: JPR)

Just being able to put a 3D object within the view of a camera is pretty much the job of augmented reality, the ability to combine 3D model with live video, but Chianetta’s idea is that Augment will offer vendors a platform so that stores and galleries can offer their customers a visualization tool for their products. The company was started with modest Angel funds and now includes 8 people.

For instance, one of Augment’s demonstrations is a coffee table. A vendor could offer the coffee table model on the web site and customers could download it and see it in place, check the size and check the color. Ideally, Augment would be so widely used that one could simply search for a coffee table and have plenty to choose from across different retailers.

Augment plans to take advantage of the explosion we’re seeing happen for 3D content. There is 3D content available everywhere. People are making it as they collect 3D captures with their cameras and Autodesk’s 123D Catch. Companies are offering 3D files for 3D prints and companies maintain 3D models of their products for interior designers. Also, people using easy, free tools like SketchUp are contributing to the stockpile of 3D content. Augment gives 3D models a reason to live, or rather it gives people something to do with them and more is on the way. PrimeSense, for instance, the company that built the original Kinect is building sensors for everything including phones, tablets, and computers, that are 3D literate making it even easier to create 3D content and also place 3D content in context.

Right now, the young company has deals with packaging companies which are using the technology to demonstrate how boxes, creates, etc. will fit into store fronts or offices. The company is opening a U.S. office and hopes to expand. The company went to SXSW to talk to potential investors and introduce the company to the U.S. market. They managed to generate some buzz in one of the buzziest places in the universe.

The mobile app can be downloaded for free from the appropriate app store. Also, the company’s website, is happy to demo the app for you.

It works with a marker or without. To use the technology with a tracker allowing customers to precisely place an object and move around it. People can print a tracker with a simple button push on the app, or they can create their own tracker using any magazine or piece of paper. The product can also be used in markerless mode though there is less control.

What do we think?

The light bulb went on when Chianetta started talking about how 3D content is accumulating. Although many retailers already have 3D models of their products, especially furniture manufacturers. Many more are small businesses and the idea of creating 3D models of their stock is daunting … or it was. Now, companies can hire people and give them cameras to create, log, and post models of the products in online catalogs. Voila, indeed.