Hey, welcome to RendAR! I'm Laura, a fourth-year Mechatronics Engineering student at the University of Waterloo. I'm building RendAR (partly) for my fourth-year design project. I researched and designed RendAR during fall 2020 and am in the process of building a functional prototype this winter.
So why RendAR?
Last summer, a friend of mine helped a retailer set up an online store for the first time. Like many businesses, the retailer felt they had to be online to survive the pandemic. His experience taught me about some of the hard parts of managing an online store.
Think about the last time you bought something online. You probably don't have to think too hard. For me, it was two days ago. Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the already increasing trend of Ecommerce. In 2020, Ecommerce retail sales in the US jumped a whopping 30%.
Brick-and-mortar retailers have been pushed to move their stores online or risk going out of business. In the words of one retailer I spoke to,
Stores without an online footprint are on palliative care.
One of the primary platforms enabling this transition is Shopify, which powers over 1,000,000 businesses worldwide. Shopify is a game changer for merchants, no doubt. But after talking to a few retailers, I learned they still have challenges. Two big ones are product photography and data entry.
It turns out taking great product photos isn't that easy and nobody likes tedious admin. This is especially true for non-technical retailers who are already stretched thin. They can either learn to do it themselves, which takes time, or hire someone, which takes money.
Retailers need an easy and inexpensive way to capture quality, consistent product photos and data and add them to their online store.
So that's what I'm working on. An interesting thing about these two problems (product images + data entry) is that they have something in common -- they're repetitive. This means they're candidates for automation, and that's what I aim to do with RendAR.
RendAR automates product photography, data entry, and Shopify integration.
RendAR lets retailers digitize their products and get them online with the press of a button, no technical skills required. The system includes an all-in-one capture rig with lighting and a motorized turntable, an iPhone app, cloud-based image processing, and Shopify integration.
It works like this:
In this proof-of-concept, 2D photos are a starting point, but could definitely be expanded to 360 images and 3D captures. Similarly, I chose to measure mass and dimensions since that info is needed for shipping, but other data types could also be captured. In the future, more (all?) Shopify product data fields could be auto-captured so that RendAR completely digitizes the product. Fully digitizing products opens up ideas for other cool/useful applications...but that's for another day.
Building RendAR gives me chance to design and build an end-to-end system and play around with things like mechanical design, motor control, sensor calibration, bluetooth, iOS development, image processing, UX, and APIs. I'll share some of that here in future posts.