Robot mannequin helps shoppers find the right fit

Want to see how that shirt will fit before buying it online? Enlist the aid of a shape-shifting robo-mannequin, part of a new virtual dressing room setup from Estonian start-up Fits.me.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

Robot mannequin
The muscle-sprouting robotic mannequin can grow and shrink on demand. Fits.me

How do you increase the odds that a shirt you bought online will fit just right? Well, you could cross your fingers--or enlist the help of a new shape-shifting robot mannequin that shows you how clothes hang on your frame.

The headless robot is part of a virtual fitting room service for retailers created by Estonian start-up Fits.me. Customers shopping at a participating site enter their body measurements online (height, chest, arm length, torso, type, and so on), then see photos of a mannequin shaped just like them "trying on" the item they're eyeing in different sizes and styles.

For now, the robo-mannequin can only step in for male shoppers. Created using scientific algorithms based on more than 30,000 3D human body scans, it can shift into 2,000 different male body shapes (wait, are there really that many male body shapes?!), gaining or losing pecs and biceps with the adjustment of a scroll bar.

Robot mannequin neck
Click the photo to see the mannequin's neck in giant, horror-movie size. Fits.me

The virtual fitting room, which launched earlier this year, is currently being tested by several retailers, including Germany's Quelle and U.K.-based Hawes & Curtis, which makes and sells shirts and other apparel items.

"Not only do we expect it to increase sales," Hawes & Curtis' e-commerce director, Antony Comyns, told the BBC, "but it should also cut down on returns, because customers should be receiving a product that fits perfectly on their bodies."

Indeed, research trials of the virtual fitting room have shown a 28 percent reduction in online apparel returns, while sales increased threefold, said Heikki Haldre, CEO and co-founder of Fits.me. He notes that online apparel sales represent a fast-growing e-commerce category, producing an estimated annual revenue of $31 billion dollars in the U.S. in 2010, according to Forrester Research. But some consumers (including yours truly) still hesitate to buy clothes online since they can't try them on. That's where Fit.me hopes to step in.

"Only 8 percent of clothing is currently sold online, and Fits.me Virtual Fitting Room is the disruptive technology that will enable online apparel retailers to successfully compete with traditional brick-and-mortar clothing shops," Haldre said.

Fits.me demo
Customers enter their body measurements online, and the robot mannequin follows suit (click to enlarge). Fits.me

His company--which recently closed a second round of financing of 1.3 million euros (about $1.8 million) led by the Estonian Development Fund--plans to launch its fitting-room service for women by the end of the year. An application for the iPhone and iPad, not surprisingly, should be available soon.

We've seen augmented-reality solutions for clothing and shoes before, of course, but the shape-shifting robo-mannequin definitely adds a wonderfully weird dimension to the shopping proceedings. Given robots' infiltration into virtually every other part of our lives, it's fitting.

(Via Fast Company)