Developers take augmented reality to next level


Anna Prisacari, vice president of marketing and user experience at Praxik, demonstrates the InstantAR augmented reality program that can be used on a phone or tablet. Courtesy Configura

A local software designer with furniture manufacturing clients will showcase a pro version of an augmented reality tool housed on its platform at NeoCon in June.

Linköping, Sweden-based Configura — which has its North American operation at 35 Oakes St. SW in Grand Rapids — will demo an augmented reality (AR) platform called InstantAR at its booth at The Merchandise Mart in Chicago during the 50th NeoCon convention June 11-13.

InstantAR allows CET Designer users to “project” their designs onto a client’s real-world space by using a phone or tablet.

The basic version, which debuted Feb. 15, allows users to project furnishings onto blank physical spaces.

The pro version to be shown at NeoCon allows users to visualize changes to spaces that already have furniture by swiping a slider across the device’s screen — as well as scaling down immense spaces to manageable sizes for interior design purposes.

Minneapolis-based Praxik, which makes mixed-reality solutions for businesses, developed InstantAR. It is an extension housed in Configura’s flagship software for space planning and product configuration, CET Designer.

Aaron Bryden, senior vice president, software developer and co-founder of Praxik, said the technology is simple to operate. Users open the InstantAR extension on CET Designer and enter their phone number and then it sends a link to their iPhone or iPad via the cloud. A version for Android is in the works.

“You get a text message, then tap on the link, and it takes you to the App Store. You install the free viewer and open it up, and it starts loading the design,” he said.

Anna Prisacari, vice president of marketing and user experience at Praxik, said the experience allows users to poke around from various angles rather than experiencing a 2-D rendering in a fly-through or a 3-D artificial, virtual reality (VR).

“Aaron points the camera on the floor, and it puts the item on the floor. It stays on the floor and doesn’t give you the sense of it floating,” she said. “You can look under the desk, move around it and rotate the design.”

Configura plans to market the InstantAR extension at NeoCon to the public and its existing CET Designer software users — many of which develop their own extensions or hire a third-party implementation partner, such as Grand Rapids-based OST, to create them. Currently, CET Designer users mainly are from the office furniture, kitchen and bath, material handling, industrial machinery, and laboratory and health care industries.

Grand Rapids-based Steelcase is one such user. The manufacturer currently is working with Praxik to develop “an enhanced solution” for InstantAR to customize the tool to its needs. This includes Steelcase delivering materials such as fabrics and wood textures that will improve the quality of the AR simulations for the extension.

Jim Keane, Steelcase president and CEO, said his company has been using VR and AR for a number of years — including in the reimagining and refurnishing of the Learning + Innovation Center (LINC) on its Grand Rapids campus — but so far, it has used the technology mostly in product development.

One example is the design and prototyping process for his office inside LINC. Designers converted 2-D drawings into 3-D renderings, which were then converted into VR simulations, so he could put on glasses and describe any changes he desired.

Then, the designers created foam-core furniture pieces and layered on various surface materials using augmented reality. Next, they built wood pieces he could place objects on or sit on. Lastly, the finished products were manufactured to exact specifications.

“It saves you a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of carbon if you can make your changes virtually rather than through building things physically,” Keane said.

“I think the same core technology — virtual reality and augmented reality — can be used and are being used by our dealers to help clients imagine what a space might look like.”

Bryden said although VR and AR are not new, Praxik was able to create InstantAR only recently because of changes Apple and Google made in October that allow integration of AR and their devices and ecosystems.

“As far as integrating it in with design software and making it really easy, we are one of the first,” Bryden said.

Audra Hartges, who works in corporate communications and public relations at Steelcase, said her company looks forward to seeing the “Steelcase-specific” features that can be loaded into InstantAR during a demo at NeoCon.

Prisacari said the basic version of InstantAR so far has been used mainly in design and sales.

“We have a dealership in Minneapolis, and they purchased the beta version the day it was released and used it the same day with a potential client,” she said. “They were getting questions, ‘What if we did this,’ or ‘How about that?’ (and) one of the designers was instantaneously making changes and saying, ‘Let me show you that.’ Instantly, the client could view the changes, and it helped expedite the process.”

Bryden and Prisacari said the extension makes it easy for designers to communicate with end users who are miles away because they can open the link and try it out where they are instead of traveling to the showroom.

“When customers are seeing their future room in their space, it gives them ownership,” Prisacari said.

So far, InstantAR basic has about 200 users. The extension costs $50 a year per user.

The CET Designer license needed to operate it is $1,000 a year per user.

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