Journal

Web 3.0 Is coming – Smart stores become a reality

#web #3D #model #red360 #worldwide #augmentedreality
 
 
Roy Tavenor
28 February 2021

Since the birth of the World Wide Web in 1990 we have seen major disruption in all industries. No market sector has been spared. Yet the creator of the WWW - Tim Berners-Lee – has admitted it hasn’t changed much since he developed the HTTP protocol that made it possible for computers to talk to each other.

Web 1.0 was revolutionary in many ways, but it was essentially 2 dimensional world. HTTP was a way of linking pages – like flat pieces of paper. Old hands still refer to web pages. Early web sites were mainly text based – a factor that made it easy for Google’s algorithms that made their search engine the world’s tool of choice for finding information. URL’s point us to specific pages – all of them 2D – and give us little information about the page we are looking for – other than its digital address in cyberspace.

Web 2.0 came about due to faster Internet services and higher bandwidth made possible by broadband. We were able to access richer content, faster – including video and images as well as text. A new protocol HTTPS was developed to cope with the additional load of rich media, but Web 2.0 remains a 2D medium.

We live in two worlds at one time – one is digital and one is physical. Our 3D physical world which is not easy to represent on the 2D Internet. Thankfully a group of technology thought leaders has tackled the challenge and conceived the idea of Web 3.0 – also known as the Spatial Web. They believe this will be at the core of the next revolution of the Internet as we know it. The simple principle behind their theory is that there are two universes existing in parallel

 
 
 

 
 
 

We live in two worlds at the same time.

 
 
 
Introducing the spatial web

Spatial Web gurus talk about Smart Twins – capturing the idea that everything that exists in the physical world will eventually be mirrored in digital form. We already see much evidence that the process of digitising the world is well advanced. The GIS industry is a good example. The planet we live on has digitised as 2D maps – and increasingly in the form of 3D geography. One look at the GPS in your car, or at Google Earth maps on your mobile phone, shows the extent to which digitisation has been happening over recent years.

The most popular computer games are presented in 3D for the ultimate in realism. Design software like Adobe is used by millions of users to create 2D graphics. The BIM software we use in our design practice, called REVIT, is used by architects and interior designers all over the world to build 3D models of buildings and interiors. Free 3D modelling software like SketchUp makes it easy for anyone with a computer to create 3D models. Industrial designers use tools like SolidWorks to design products and components in 2D and 3D. Google Earth and Google Maps have 2D and 3D settings.

Online databases now make it possible for subscribers to download 3D Smart Twins of land, topography and buildings from new spatial platforms. A recent example is a Digital Twin service recently introduced by the New South Wales State Government in Australia. It was developed in partnership with the CSIRO and consultancy Data61.

Despite all this innovation in 3D the Internet still exists in a 2D state. The authors of The Spatial Web – Gabrielle Rene and Dan Mapes - speak of the moves that are under way in the IT industry to prepare us for Web 3.0 – in which we navigate in 3D – achieving a digital Smart Twin that looks much like the 3D physical we humans live in.

Rene explains more about this new era “The Spatial Web weaves together all of the digital and physical strands of our future world into the fabric of a new universe where next-gen computing technologies generate a unified reality; where our digital and physical lives become one. This is a new kind of network, not merely one of interconnected computers like the original Internet or a network of interlinked pages, text, and media like the World Wide Web but rather a “living network” made up of the interconnections between people, places, and things, their virtual counterparts, and the interactions, transactions and transportation between them. Like the World Wide Web before it, this new Spatial Web requires new code to bring it to life. Not merely software code, but critically, ethical, and social codes as well.” The possibility of Web 3.0 is not an idea shared by all, as the authors point out.

However, rather than debate that point, let’s look at some of the possible applications that may come about as a consequence of the Spatial Web – should the predictions come about. Mapes and Rene, on their verses.io web site, touch on a few use cases. According to them a 3D Web would make it possible to create everything from smart spaces, smart retail, smart supply chains, smart assets, smart warehouses and smart contracts to smart provenance systems

 
 
 

 
 
 

Smart spaces, smart retail, smart supply chains, smart assets, smart warehouses, smart contracts, smart provenance

 
 
 
 

They also make the point that the Spatial Web will be made even more effective when combined with other new technologies like AI, blockchain, IOT and quantum computing. Rather than dwelling on the theory behind Web 3.0, I am more interested in what it could mean for retailers in the future as I believe it could be one of the most important breakthroughs to achieving true integration of offline and online retail. The vision is to create a perfect “twin” of our physical world in digital form. This means that everything we know will exist in two forms – once we have digitised the physical world and all it contains.

 
 
 
Smart twins will connect online and stores

What if we could apply this thinking to offline and online stores? The physical store should be the Smart Twin of your virtual store – and vice versa. It sounds fairly obvious that customers could shop any way they want – as long as they are patronising the same retailer. But in my experience very few retailers have seized the opportunity to digitise their physical stores, let alone datify them.

The idea is so new that of the Top 100 retailers globally, both online and offline, none has yet implemented the Spatial Web to any great extent. Even Amazon and Alibaba, despite all their technical brilliance and deep pockets, have barely started their journey. Apple and Google for their part have quietly prepared us for it by equip- ping their mobile devices with features such as 3D cameras, GPS, VR and AR capabilities. But there are relatively few apps at this stage which take full advantage of Web 3.0. The Spatial Web could be a great leveler of the retail playing field. Despite Amazon’s dominance of online retail, they have only a fraction of the stores that Walmart has. Conversely, Walmart are lagging far behind Amazon in the online channel but has over 11,000 stores world-wide.

Who will be the winners in Web 3.0? It might be the store based retailers who have an edge. For all their technical sophistication, online retailers exist in 2D world. The interfaces that consumers use to shop online are all 2D flat screens – and all online content appeals to only two of the five senses, which is a bit of a disadvantage to customers who live in a 3D sensory world in which all their senses are at work.

As far as we can tell, Amazon has not yet digitised its entire physical store – despite owning the Whole Foods chain, as well Amazon Go and Amazon book stores. I doubt that Alibaba’s Hema stores, despite their technical brilliance, have yet been fully digitised. What does digitisation look like? Let’s start with offline retail first – in other words – stores. Stores are spaces within buildings. If they were designed with the past few decades, they probably exist in the form of digital data already – thanks to the architects and designers who created them in software like AutoCad, ArchiCad or REVIT.

Ironically, after creating the designs in digital form, either in 2D or 3D form, the data would have been used to print 2D construction drawings which would ultimately be printed on paper for use on building sites. The data files still remain, however as dwg, dwf, dxf and at least 10 other file formats. They probably also exist in pdf and other Adobe formats. In our design practice I have observed over the years that the data within our drawings has relatively short life. Once stores are constructed and the doors are opened, those drawings become history. Yet the data embedded in them has relevance and value long after the store opening, for the entire life of the store.

Here is an easy starting point for you as a retailer – as there is a good chance your stores have already been digitised at the time they were designed. Not only your store, but all the equip ment, furniture, lighting fittings, fixtures, signage – all the essential services like power and data points, water services, air conditioning, fire and security systems are likely to be included in the datasets underlying the 3D CAD models of your store.

In 2D CAD systems there was limited capability to capture data – you had lines on paper – with some basic attributes. But in the more recent 3D systems, especially BIM platforms, your draw ings are far smarter – since they contain a database that is linked to your design documentation.

 
 
 
Smart stores are
the future

The birth of BIM (Building Information Modeling) came about through engineers and quantity surveyors wanting to a smarter way to measure dimensions, bills of quantities, loads, volumes of materials and costs. Drawings with databases became a reality thanks new software but what is the connection between the Spatial Web and BIM? Let me remind you that the aim is to connect the physical and virtual worlds. BIM designs exist in 3D digital space and are called parametric models. This means they do not have any connection to the 3D geography of our planet. The solution to integrating digital CAD models into the real world is remarkably simple by using a process called geo-coding. This methodology links data point in any BIM model of a building, to a known physical reference point which denotes its physical location.

This simple routine has the effects of linking two worlds – placing buildings into the geographic location where they will ultimately be constructed. Old timers always said retail was about location, location, location, and even in our digital world that still holds true. Most of us are very familiar with geo-space – thanks to the GPS’s in our cars, Google Maps, Apple Maps or Google Earth. Now that we have physically placed our store into the real world, a host of other data can be added.

Starting with the external environment, retailers can purchase data that captures the topography around their stores, or the adjacent buildings and the streets. They can connect the geo-demographics of their store catchments to databases that contain store attributes. Retailers can create digital fences that represent primary, secondary and tertiary zones around their stores – giving them a new way to define catchment areas, franchise zones or sales territories. They can track customer movement and even identify online transaction made on mobile phones, tablets or computers and allocate them to geo-fenced areas or specific stores.

Big Data providers already analyse mobile phone and camera data to manage traffic congestion on our highways and track people on our streets. Retailers can purchase data for vehicle, public transport and pedestrian traffic to help them predict store patronage and sales in different conditions or within dayparts. Digital giants such Google have mapped a significant proportion of geo-data that defines our planet, our cities and the external environment in them - right down to street level.

Now let’s focus on the internal environments which retailers trade in. This is a world that is still largely inaccessible to Big Data because GIS systems are not ideal for mapping interiors. 4G or 5G technologies systems are not foolproof when it comes to mapping the interiors of buildings like shops, malls and public spaces. That means that there is a huge amount of cubic space around us that remains to be digitised. Once those spaces are digitised in terms of 3D coordinates, effectively creating digital Smart Twins, we can start the process of datafication.

I like to distinguish between digitisation which sets up the spatial framework of our markets, our buildings and our stores, and datafication which is the process by which we can add rich data to those frameworks, including store attributes, components, contents and the occupants associated with the spaces. For example, data such location, dimensions, layout, fixtures, equipment, services and space allocation by department, or by level, can be captured to create a total digital record of the store and its interior environment.

Fortunately it is possible to datify stores using same software that is used to design and construct them. Once you have created an accurate digital record you have taken the first step to having a Smart Store. A total digital record of stores would be invaluable to all divisions within any retail business.

For example, finance teams will be able to maintain up to date digital registers of all their instore assets. Teams responsible for repairs and maintenance of stores will also benefit by installing IOT tags to show the location of services such as power, water and air conditioning in the event of failures or maintenance. Security systems and vital equipment like refrigerators and freezers will be monitored by IOT sensors. Operations teams can monitor and track the movement of customers, staff and merchandise in their stores. Marketing and VM teams can more effectively apply and measure their customer communications within their stores.

I believe the true value of the data embedded in Smart Stores will be improved management of stores - especially in the form of metrics for logistics, operations, merchandising, financial, marketing, customer service and staffing. I have no doubt that we will be hearing a lot more about Smart Stores in the future. We will also continue to see the demise of Dumb Stores! The process of datafication of stores started some time ago, and as it continues we will start to see ways for Old Retailers to transform into New Retail.

These technologies may be new to some retailers, but in industries like airlines the use of digital sensors and analysis of the Big Data generated by the tracking devices have dramatically improved safety and efficiency – and made preventive maintenance of aircraft far more effective. Makers of jet turbine engines, including GE and Rolls Royce, have found their businesses transforming from manufacturing to managed services – all based on datafication.

The potential benefits of Smart Stores are significant for retailers. Rent is a huge cost for stores – and it all comes to down to accurate measurement of GLA ( Gross Leasable Area). Most of the survey work our teams undertake in stores is now done by 3D laser scanning – a far more accurate technique. That means the drawings produced of stores, and therefore their dimensions and GLA, are more reliable. We discovered early in our digitisation journey that the leasable areas of some stores were incorrect and that landlords were charging more rent than was necessary. How much could you save if your retail leasable area was overstated by just 1%? You could be missing out on valuable savings.

Digitisation of stores into Smart Twins can help retailers optimise their energy and lighting costs. Specialist consultants can use the data to create better lighting plans, improved lighting levels and lower energy consumption. Spatial analysis of digitised stores offers benefits to merchandise planners. Our experience with buying teams and merchandise planners has shown that they often do not have access to accurate space allocation data of stores at a detailed level. That data would allow them to better manage their ROS (return on space) and can be exported from BIM design software into store planning platforms like Spaceman.

 
 
 
Tracking products
in a 3D world

I have already mentioned the growing importance of provenance in retailing. Technology makes it possible for individual consumers to connect directly with farmers anywhere in the world - something that in the past was quite common in small villages and farming communities. This is an old idea reinvented by New Retailers. Products which are tagged at the source can acquire rich data that can be used by retailers for a variety of purposes. In a recent project I was engaged to develop a strategy for a fresh produce retailer and introduced them to a number of tech companies which produce smart tags and sensors that can be attached to fruit and vegetables by farmers or produce packers.

The most basic tag will be a sticker carrying a bar code or QR code which carries basic information about the product and its source. The next level of technology uses sensors that monitor conditions from the time of picking through to delivery in stores. This data can include time of picking, temperature, humidity, location and even pollution levels at the source. More sophisticated sensors have accelerometers, similar to those in smart- phones, which capture movement data that can indicate whether products have had a smooth journey or have been roughly handled in transit.

Scanning such tags on receipt of products in warehouses or stores can inform retailers about the condition of produce on arrival, allowing retailers to better assess shelf life, be more accurate with use by dates, identify damaged goods and give them an indication of produce that should be marked down in order to have a faster sell through. I expect to see big innovations in electronic price ticketing that can display far more information than paper price tickets and can be updated in an instant. In the future we will see rich provenance data displayed on e-labels – along with the usual price, product benefits and pack details.

I have been working with a tech partner who uses a very sophisticated digital tag that that is attached to the ears of animals on the farm. These tags identify each animal, making it possible to record valuable data such breed, age, lineage, genetics, feed type, location, ownership, state of health and a variety of data that can be extremely valuable to feedlots, stock yards, abattoirs and meat buyers when the time comes for the animal to be processed. The same tags continue GPS chips that allow tracking of the live animal, and also the processed meat product, through all stages of the shipping and delivery process.

Data scientists and veterinarians are developing algorithms that can monitor unusual movements of live animals on the farm which may point to certain health issues. Ag-tech is a fascinating field – especially because it ultimately connects with retailers who all members of the same ecosystem. One application of this technology is virtual farming. The past practice for meat farmers was to own the land and the animals on it, and offer them for sale at the time when they are ready for the market. Today it is possible for a large buyer to purchase a number of animals from many different farmers. Virtual farming is a concept in which a “herd” of animals each of which is clearly tagged and identified, but may be located all over the country under the care of multiple farmers or in large feed lots.

Much of the technology needed to create a Smart Supply Chain already exists. It is really up to retailers and farmers to collaborate to capture the benefits. New Farmers and New Retailers – there is a powerful combination! I fully expect that in the near future AI will be harnessed to process the vast amounts of data from the supply chain which will be used to bring a new level of sophistication to the management of the fresh food supply chain – which we will refer to as the Smart Chain

 
 
 
From line drawings to 3D reality and AR

As Spatial Web evolves, you can expect the visualisation of digital data to reach new heights. Retailers are visual people – and the old adage is correct - a picture tells a thousand words. In Web 3.0 we will see more than pictures – we will be able to peer into a parallel universe populated by Smart Twins – digital replicas of the real world. We have become used to realistic computer games, 3D modelling, CGI movies, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality as entertainment. In Web 3.0 we will see the convergence between gaming technologies and business systems.

In our agency we have always used 3D models, renders and fly-though animations to present our work to clients. To the design purists in our industry this has not always been a popular technique because traditional designers saw hand and illustrated perspectives as an art form. Whilst beautiful to behold, such 2D techniques do not convey what the building or the interior space will look like once it is built – especially to someone not versed in reading plans and elevations. As a non-designer, I have to acknowledge that I have often had difficulty in visualising the end result of the many 2 dimensional drawings I have presented to clients over the years – because they simply don’t convey the spatial nature of the design sufficiently.

We initially had some success with animated wire frame models with very little detail – as a way of showing a space as a customer would see it on entering – an early attempt to bring a better appreciation of spatial design. Once we moved from a 2D to a 3D platform it became a whole lot quicker and easier to visualise our work. This allowed us to embark on the next stage of our 3D journey – we exported our parametric models from REVIT into specialist rendering software which had the capability to produce very realistic 3D views and animated flythroughs.

Our fly-throughs were exported as video files and showed the space through the eyes of the customer. However, to make a video we had to select a path of travel through the space that showed most, but not all, of the space. About 5 years ago we started to produce hyper realistic 3D renders for some of our more premium work as we discovered this was more suitable for presenting luxury finishes and realistic lighting – especially for high end restaurants, clubs, hotels and casinos. Although very realistic, static views of 3 dimensional spaces still do not convey the true sense of a spatial design.

We then trialed Virtual Reality (VR) as a presentation technique – and although we thought it was pretty cool, it was difficult to make a presentation to a room full of people with only a few sets of googles. Besides, some people found the sensation of VR a bit disconcerting.

Augmented Reality was our next attempt – and this proved to be more successful – especially when we asked clients to view our 3D models using a mobile app. This allows the viewer to step inside the spatial model and to control their viewpoint by moving the mobile around whilst watching the image on the screen. The app gives a far more realistic experience for the viewer as you feel like you are actually in the space. If you want to view the ceiling, simply point your mobile up, or move it down to view the floor. Our first version was not true AR as it used a 360 image extracted from our rendered 3D model to simulate the effect of moving around the space.

 
 
 
How does web 3.0 benefit shoppers?

Then things got a little more interesting! As I said earlier, I am not a designer, and along with most people, struggle to visualise spaces from 2D drawings. This became very evident when my wife and I were considering whether to buy a new apartment off-plan. We decided to visit a Display Centre belonging to a large property developer – an underwhelming experience because we couldn’t picture what we were shopping for.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 

An underwhelming experience – We could not picture what we were shopping for.

 
 
 
 

The smartly dressed sales associates circulated around a luxurious showroom filled with architects’ visuals of what the final development would look like. So far so good – we bought the dream. Next we were shown a few displays of kitchens and bathrooms fitted out with some of the colours and finishes that buyer could select from – and finishes boards showing samples of all the available materials. OK – we could still get some mental image of some parts of the apartments. Things went downhill when we asked to see the plans of each apartment.

We were presented with a printed A4 sheet with a CAD floor plan – you guessed it – in 2D. Just in case we didn’t get the message (which we didn’t), we were invited to watch a slick sales video that was beautiful to behold, but light on detail – and showed us the whole development, not the apartment we were interested in. To visualise our potential new home, we had to use our imagination. At that point we lost interest. We were being asked to sign up for an apartment worth close to a million dollars, pay a deposit to secure it and agree to wait two years for construction to be completed. We still no idea of what we were buying and could not imagine what the space would like in reality. Was a bathroom of 4 x 3 metres large enough, what would it feel like – and was the main bedroom big enough for our furniture. Worse still, we had no idea what the view from our balcony might be. And to cap it off, even if we could visualise our new dream home, what would the 3 colour schemes on offer look like in real life.

Somewhat despondent after failing this test of our visualisation skills, we left the display centre firmly resolved never to consider any apartment in the future. Two years later, once the building had been constructed, we inspected a few of the apartments that had not yet been sold, and were very relieved that we had not been seduced into buying one. Within seconds after entering the building we felt claustrophobic, and on looking at the views from the lounge room windows, realised that what we had hoped to see from our 4th floor apartment did not come close to our expectation.

What I have described is typical of the process most home buyers experience anywhere in the world when buying “off plan”. In Asia, in particular, with its apartment building boom, it happens to millions of prospective buyers. In Australia, as it many countries, developers of residential homes often build show homes in display villages. This clearly a step in the right direction as you can experience a real house with real materials and finishes, and rooms full of loaned furniture.

But there’s a catch. The house you are viewing bears little resemblance to the one you will buy, and the glossy marketing brochures you are given only show the overall range of homes on offer. You will be shown a variety of options for different floor plans, layouts and finishes, not to mention the hundreds of different blocks of land to choose from. But none of them is real, and it is very difficult to visualise the end result unless you buy one of the show-houses.

Once again home buyers are being asked to use their imaginations to picture their dream homes – before putting down payments on the single biggest purchase they will ever make – their family home. Some of the smarter developers do have 3D presentations that help you visualise the home you are interested in, with the colours and finishes you have selected included in the models. You would probably view the 3D presentation as printed sheets, colour PDF’s or as video files.

Seldom would buyers be able to view the customised 3D model in VR or AR form. What does this all have to do with retail? Ask Ikea – who have a very cool AR app that helps customers visualise furniture in their homes. All you have to do is take a photo of the room in your home where you want to place a new furniture item. The Ikea app allows you to select an item from their range and superimpose it on your photo, scaling it to fit the space with a reported accuracy of around 98%.

This is a great step forward, but as with many visualisation tools, there are few pitfalls to look out for. First of all your mobile phone camera can only capture a 2D image of your room – and it doesn’t measure the space. The Ikea product will be a fairly realistic 3D model in the right colour and texture, which you will overlay on the 2D photo. The app is still some way off being able to give you a true spatial experience, but at least you have taken some of the risk out of a purchase that won’t set you back too many dollars. And Ikea have created a tool that few residential developers have – so that’s a big tick for this innovative Swedish retailer.

 
 
How does apps
work in a 3D
world?

After our less than successful experience shopping for an apartment, we had a really intriguing phone call from one of our clients. They are a large manufacturer of bricks – and we had designed a number of Design Studios for them. The studios were inspiring spaces in which customers could meet with their architects or interior designers to discuss their requirements with sales associates and make selections of brick products for the home and apartments they were designing or renovating.

We started work on our next version of our 3D app which would take us another step closer to giving customer a far more realistic experience. Our app was designed to overlay any of the brick products in the range on to an AR view of the house. If customers want to visualise a particular brick finish, or choose a suitable roof tile, they can select the products of their choice and see a rendered 3D view of their home. They can also select the style of doors and windows, paint finishes, garage doors and a host of other add-ons that may be to their taste. Another feature of the app is the ability to select from professionally designed mood boards and colour palettes.

Architects and interior designers are collaborating with 3D visualisers – many of whom use gaming platforms like Unity that previously had been used purely for entertainment. Visualisation is moving from the stage of being a gimmick – into an era in which it will be commercialised in many forms. Retailing – and a host of other industries – will be the better for it. Think of all the tangible products that could be visualised digitally to give customers a real world view of what they are considering to buy - helping them with their choices, but giving the power to visualise their dream home.

Fortunately 3D visualisation technology is advancing at a rapid rate, and the cost of digitising is reducing. Combined with the DIY trend I have mentioned a number of times before, I expect to see big growth in apps that make it easier for customers to shop by empowering them with digital visualisation tools.

Now for a moment let’s reconsider the Spatial Web. Its stated mission is to digitise everything in the world. So in Web 3.0 every new house, apartment, office, shop or factory would be fully digitised in 3D – ready for inspection. Rather like Alice in Wonderland, you will be able to step through the Looking Glass code for User Interface into a virtual world that is an exact replica of the real world. The same will happen for every existing building or space.

 
 
 
3D helps your customers to visualise your products in use
• Fashion
• Cars
• Furniture
• Home appliances
• Fashion accessories
• Wall coverings
• Window coverings
• Floor coverings
• Homewares
• Manchester
• Jewelry and watches
• Cosmetics
• Sports gear
• Outdoor gear
• Eyewear
• Home hardware
• Plumbing
• Lighting
• Travel
• Adventures
• Accommodation
• Entertainment
• Cooking
• DIY
• Finance
• Health and wellness
• Exercise
• Fitness
• Sports
• Therapies
• Cosmetic surgery
• Weight loss
• Body building
• Dentistry
• Hair replacement
• Home security
• Energy management


As you can see the process of digitising our world started some decades ago, long before the idea of the Spatial Web was created. Capturing the planet in 3D is a huge job, never-ending, but very profitable.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 

Capturing the planet in 3D is a huge job, it’s never-ending, but very profitable

 
 
 

One company that really understands the importance of visualisation is Google. The London newspaper, The Guardian, reported as follows:-“In 2004, Danish brothers Lars and Jens Eilstrup Rasmussen went to Google with an idea for a web app that would not only display static maps, but provide people with a searchable, scrollable, zoomable map. Google acquired their company, Where 2 Technologies, along with a second company called Keyhole that was developing the geospatial visualisation software that would become Google Earth. A team of 50 people set out to build Google Maps. Google launched its new platform in the US on 8 February 2005 and in the UK two months later, though by that time it wasn’t the first digital map of its kin. Yahoo had beaten Google to it with a redevelopment of its long-standing Yahoo Maps in 2004.”

Although not the first movers, Google took visualisation of 2D maps and 3D topography to a whole new level and today we take for granted this massive dataset that we can access – free – any time we need it. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, Google tackled the next step in 2007 by launching Streetview, interac tive panoramas viewed from points on Google Maps. It is now a common sight in most cities around the world to see Google capturing more and more spatial and visual data by means of cars driving around with special sensors, cameras and GPS devices, and Google contractors pacing our streets carrying smart back- packs loaded with high tech cameras. It might be a good time to reflect on how you could use visualisation could help your customers to shop store and online.

 
 
Design for a 3D world

Visualisation is one the “dark arts” within the design industry and every designer has a different approach depending on their personal taste, the nature of their clients and the tasks at hand. Sometimes you will find that loose, sketch type illustrations are perfect to convey and idea, a look or a concept. There are times when only highly detailed renders can convey the message. 3D models are more effective than 2D plans in most cases, and animated “walk-throughs” make for compelling presentations to board members and company executives wanting to see how their money will be spent.

I find one of the most valuable uses of visualisation in design presentations is to help our clients stand in the shoes of their customer and to see the world through a different lens. Ironically, most architects and designers who create in 3D using digital tools such as BIM and visualisation software, end up delivering 2D printed drawings which are used by builders to construct the buildings and spaces which in themselves are three dimensional. Product designers and design engineers are more fortunate when their 3D design software is connected to manufacturing plants that translate data in physical components and finished products. Car manufacturing plants using robotics are a good example of digital morphing into physical – a far more efficient process.

The increasing use of 3D printing in industry is another example of data becoming physical without having to revert to 2D drawings. This disruptive technology is developing rapidly from small scale objects to larger components that are starting to be used in the construction industry.

Innovative firms like Contour Crafting have developed the capability to manufacture building modules using large scale 3D printers and robotic tools to assemble buildings. The early indications are very positive with big reductions in construction costs, shorter leadtimes, reduced wastage and better quality of buildings. You will see these techniques being used in high rise buildings, low-cost residential housing, emergency accommodation in natural disasters and even construction on other planets.

I expect to see these benefits flowing through to the retail industry in good time, which will reduce the time and cost of building stores – one of the biggest roadblocks in physical retail. Imagine the benefits of fast track construction of the store networks of the future – especially for new formats like pop-up stores. Interestingly the technique of 3D printing can be decentralised to a large degree, reducing the cost of transporting building materials to construction sites. In the future we could see 3D printing being done on building sites. What a great demonstration of a demand driven model – as opposed to the traditional supply chain for building materials. 3D printing has broad applications from large scale to small scale objects.

 
 
 
Visual analytics

Anyone in retail who spends time trawling through spreadsheets and reports, knows the challenges of having to analyse and interpret large volumes of data, and make actionable decisions as a result. That is why visual dashboards, infographics and charts are preferred as tools to view complex data sets and 3D graphics are more effective than 2D – when it comes to data visualisation. Infographics have become an art form – with top financial publications like Forbes, The Financial Times and others forking out big dollars for top designers of data visualisation.

Take a look at platforms like ESRI, Canva, Dribbble and Infogram to discover a mysterious world where data analysis meets graphic design. Visual Analytics brings data to life so you can make smarter decisions.

 
 

 
 
 
 

Capturing the planet in 3D is a huge job, it’s never-ending, but very profitable

 

 

 
 
Computer games and movies

Possibly the most innovative uses of visualisation can be seen in CGI movies and computer games. We have come some way from the very first computer game which I recall playing around 1975 it was called Pong. Now it is considered an ancient relic. Today’s gamers are treated to amazing graphics and animations, VR and AR games, from the hyper-real to pure fantasy. The 3D effects are spectacular, even though they are executed on 2D screens. Not only is gaming big business, there is something really interesting going on with the major game development platforms – for example Unity. Unity has evolved into an ecosystem, or community, of 3D designers, game developers, animators, movie makers and CGI gurus. Unity is targeting businesses - not just gamers.

An AR app project we are working on right now will be hosted on the Unity platform because it makes it so easy to share different digital assets, and with the help of common protocols and toolkits, to create some amazing applications that are part game – part business.

 
 
Retail theatre

Our industry is possibly one of the most visual of all. The language of retailers is loaded with show biz theatrical references – lighting- sets – props - visual merchandising – display – retail theatre. Of all the senses retailers can appeal to, none is stronger than the visual sense. Yet in day to day management in retail we may not be as familiar with the ways that visualisation can help us make better decisions.

Let’s start with the obvious example of visualisation - store design. I have already spoken about the importance of presenting powerful visuals – and increasingly 3D models – to help our clients picture the store we are designing. We need to go further. Having visualised one or two stores for the purposes of a new design concept, we probably are not thinking of visualisation of all our stores.

Remember that according to the main principle behind the Spatial Web – the digitisation of entire world as we know it. Imagine having digital 3D models of each of your stores that you could view at any time, on your laptop or mobile - without having to travel to them. Not only would you have a visual record of your store network, you would have all the valuable data sitting behind the 3D models, which are really digital twins of your physical sites.Red 360 – Smart design for a New Generation.

As a marketer or visual merchandiser you could picture what a new campaign would look like before you implement it. There are many planograming tools around but they all share one weakness – they don’t capture real-time data about the amount of space occupied in stores by department or category – and they can’t show you visuals of what your planograms look like in reality. This is a further big difference between Old and New Retailers – the latter have extremely detailed data – and the tools to visualise every corner of their physical locations. When you consider the basic premise of the Spatial Web which is that everything physical will eventually be digitised, most retailers have a huge task ahead of them.

It doesn’t take much to start the process, and I would suggest that if you are a retailer undertaking refurbishments of existing sites, or building new ones, that you need to seriously consider creating 3D BIM models of your stores. Google’s Street View was launched in 2007 and every year since then updates and enhancements have been made, new features added, new camera technologies have been introduced – and it is likely that process will never stop. Whilst Google has digitised much of the physical world very little data exists of the interior of buildings.

Does your local shopping centre, department store or super- market offer you an accurate digital map of their building? In most cases you will see analogue wayfinding signage, store directories and – if you are lucky – an interactive touchscreen that tells you where are and shows you how to get where you want to go by plotting a dotted line on the screen. Try remembering the route a few minutes later. Fortunately we are starting to see many more internal mapping solutions and apps being developed for large precincts like airports, hospitals, parks, zoos and the like.

But even large players like Microsoft’s Path Guide and Google’s Indoor Maps have not set the world alight. There are some new apps like Waze, InMaps and Mapwize, but none is in regular use across the retail industry globally. I am following with interest some major players who are starting to explore Augmented Reality (AR) for indoor mapping. Here’s a tip – have a look at some the developments in AR at Apple. In 2017 they launched ARKit – a platform for app developers. By 2019 they already are on version ARKit3 – and in July this year introduced Augmented Reality “walks” in some of their own stores. Not to be left behind, Google introduced their ARCore developer kit in March 2018 – and it is already built into 39 mobile devices, with more to come.

Here is another fascinating aspect of the Spatial Web – nobody is making any big PR announcements about it – yet! Instead we are seeing the major industry players like Apple and Google quietly building 3D and AR functionality into mobiles. I find it ironic that mapping technology allows autonomous vehicles to navigate our roads, but there are few apps for shoppers on foot. Uber uses mapping really effectively for ride sharing – but they don’t have a “walking app” – at least not yet. AirBNB is starting to use 3D visualisation to allow customers to “walk through” the places and spaces they are offering for rental.

You would have to think that there will be a major disruptor entering the retail indoor mapping and AR space soon. I suggest that we will see rapid developments in mapping Smart Stores and Smart Malls in coming years – allowing consumers to navigate the physical realm as effortlessly as they can online. Better indoor mapping will be one of the most fundamental benefits of the Spatial Web and will be make life a whole lot easier and more convenient for shoppers and allow retailers to better manage large networks of stores remotely, that are too numerous and too expensive to visit in person.

 
 
Introducing
Red 360

At Red. we have embraced the Spatial Web with our Red Digital team pushing the boundaries daily to bring our designs to life in 3D using our Red 360 platform which produces everything from static 3D perspectives to 360 walk-arounds and AR visualisation. It’s changing the way we design, making it easier to get design approvals and generating valuable data so our clients can make smarter decisions.

 
 

 
 
 

Red 360 – Smart design for a New Generation.

Australia

Level 12, 160 Queen St

Melbourne VIC 3000

+61 3 9693 2500

Vietnam

Level 5, Empire Tower

26-28 Ham Nghi St

District 1 HCMC Vietnam

+84 028 3821 1711