How smart is your sofa?

The way technology is impacting the furniture industry and the manner in which we buy furniture

Until even a decade ago, no one thought AR-VR (augmented reality-virtual reality) would change the way the furniture business operated or the way we’d shop for a sofa.

“When our parents bought a bed that turned out to be too big for the room, they would probably arrange their lives around it,” says Ramakant Sharma, head of technology and operations and co-founder of Livspace, which offers end-to-end home interiors solutions. Livspace launched, what they claim is, the world’s first design automation platform, called Canvas. It allows home owners to design, decorate and furnish their homes virtually. “Today, consumers want to have good-looking homes. At the same time, there is a massive information asymmetry: if they are buying a piece of furniture at a particular price, they have no way of validating the price,” says Sharma.

 

 Problem-solving

Livspace solves this and other issues by allowing customers, who are assigned to a designer, to convey their ideas and have the designer realise their vision for them. The designer then uses the inbuilt software to take into account the right measurements of the space and choose items from the catalogue to design the home. This is done first in 2D, then in 3D, which is accessible on their website. Customers can walk into a virtual reality vision of their home (currently available at the Livspace centres in select cities including Bengaluru). Any changes can be incorporated.

The minute the customer places or changes an order, it goes all the way up to the factory and the warehouse. The time taken for delivery is a reflection of the product that takes the longest time to manufacture in the cart.

“The price point is a simple arithmetic summation of all the items used in the design. Technology is the key in the design tool. It plays three roles here, in customer relationship management, visualisation (which includes virtual reality and order tracking) and supply chain management. This way, the information asymmetry is also decreasing with time, as the customer knows why each item costs as much as it does,” says Sharma.

Urban Ladder is yet another tech-based furniture retailer which is taking on the challenge of integrating technology across four aspects: of customer experience, supply chain systems, visualisation through AR and VR and retail systems.

Look and feel

Urban Ladder began with their e-tail platform and application, and evolved to include AR. “We first built an app calling Living Spaces, which enabled customers to visualise sofas in their homes through AR. It allowed customers to understand how the sofa fits into the house and how it looks in their space, but not what it feels like. Obviously, tech has not solved the third question yet,” says Rajiv Srivatsa, co-founder.

The technology also allowed customers to change settings according to their preferences, with a 90% accuracy through AR. “Then in 2015, we expanded the technology to allow customers to see how wardrobes fit into their houses. And we have now taken the next big step, six months ago, by building a VR application in our physical stores that allows customers to experience, virtually, how a product would look in their home by simulating the space in the technology,” he says.

 Since VR is expected to take a few more years to become mainstream. Urban Ladder is hosting the device in their physical stores and the sofa is the first product they want to perfect. “But in the next few years, AR is going to become part of mobile phone technology, like it already is in the latest iPhone and Google Pixel variants. These phones can deduce the dimensions of physical places, so people can get a sense of how products fit into their homes, through their phones and through our app, which will be customised to AR,” says Srivatsa.

At the same time, they also plan to continue investing in applications that will optimise the supply chain and delivery side of things as well as data access for consultants. “This is hard to build because the entire ecosystem has to be aligned and built at one go. This means that there must not be loss of information between the designer and the consumer and the manufacturer,” says Sharma.

That’s why Livspace used a cloud-based system to align the ecosystem, cutting delivery time of the final product to just weeks. The technology is likely to be refined and deepened in the future, as design education seeks to impart more holistic insights into furniture design. Which is why it’s important to get design students on board with the idea.

Customers still like to touch and feel the furniture they are buying. “One of the projects that I ran in Srishti, which addressed the concept of online brands seeking to expand offline in order to offer a tactical experience, resulted in a unique idea. The student who came up with it suggested that brands could, instead of building a showroom, hire a few hotel suites curated by the brands, in order to offer the consumer a real-time experience,” explains Janak Mistry, design principal at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

 Because furniture is a high-cost venture, for both buyer and seller, the solution is to get everything right the first time. This is where technology helps, in ensuring the system is well connected, right from the visualisation to the supply-chain.

Technology in sustainable architecture

Architect Sampath Reddy, founder of Pop-Up Housing, and Program Manager, Built Environment at Selco Foundation, is currently working on micro-rack supported building using heavy-duty slotted angle frames and palette racks. Inspired by storage solutions in industrial warehouses, buildings as high as 20 floors can be built with this technology. Slotted angle frames can also be used to make everything fro mezzanine floors, modular units, furniture, and bunk beds.

These can then be combined with other materials such as wood or bamboo for the interiors. Sampath says he uses Google Maps extensively to look for underutilized spaces in the city where these housing solutions can be applied.

Sampath, who also works as a Program Manager, Built Environment at Selco Foundation, He is now working on using these new-age building materials for low-cost, sustainable construction, He is targeting the slums -dwelling communities and as well schools and health centres in rural areas, including medical centres, which and medical centres who need portable housing. Furniture is integrated into the construction.

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