IBM’s Virtual Mirror Brings Augmented Reality to Makeup Counters (video)

Try on makeup before you buy.

Mega-corp IBM has teamed up with Israel-based EZface to create a “virtual mirror” that allows you to see what makeup looks like on your face without ever opening a compact. Inside your favorite retail store, the EZface kiosk will take your picture and display it on its screen. Simply scan in the bar codes from cosmetics and the virtual mirror will show you what they would look like on your skin. You can even share your results with friends via email or mobile phone to get their advice. Check out a cool demonstration of the technology from IBM courtesy of The Street. Augmented reality just got fabulous.

Though dubbed the ‘virtual mirror’, the EZface kiosk is an augmented reality system, blending live video images with virtual/digital elements on the same screen. This is just one of many uses of AR in marketing that we’ve seen recently. Not only that, but it has the potential to become one of the most widespread. EZface kiosks are already in stores in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, and are covering major brands like L’Oreal, Maybelline, Covergirl and Revlon. The adoption of the system has some distinct advantages. The kiosk allows customers to preview and personalize their purchases without actually applying and removing makeup, and it allows stores to track which products are being reviewed most often. The virtual mirror has the potential to help bring augmented reality firmly into the mainstream.

I am also moderately impressed by the facial and color recognition algorithms displayed by the kiosk in the video above. EZface software not only identifies where each type of makeup should be applied to the customer image, it can suggest the appropriate shades of cosmetic to match skin tone. Something which, if done right, would save customers loads of time and frustration.

Along with the in-store kiosks, EZface has an online portal that allows you to upload a photo and try out various cosmetics from major brands. I tried it out with a snapshot from a webcam. The interface was fairly easy to use, but I was disappointed to find that the facial recognition tech that was touted in the video didn’t seem to function completely on its own. I had to manually adjust the outlines of my features to get the computer to accurately recognize them. Maybe I just have one of those faces? One hopes that the kiosks are a little more user-friendly than the online version. In any case, once the photo is setup the ‘trying on makeup’ part of the virtual experience works just fine and seemed reasonably realistic. Try it out for yourself.

EZface’s isn’t the only virtual mirror you can use. There are many others you can find on the web, and Silhouette even has an iPhone App that will let you demo some of their sunglasses. I’m betting that the technology will catch on and expand. With online sales gaining a larger share of the market every year consumers are going to want a way to see how things will look on them before they buy. Webcams and virtual mirrors could make that happen. (In the process, they might be automating away some retail positions.) Eventually, augmented reality systems are going to not only shape the way we purchase goods, but what those goods are capable of. We’re approaching the day when your sunglasses will give you navigation instructions and your car windshield will highlight dangers. The potential for augmented reality is vast and EZface’s kiosk is just one of many uses we’ll see in the upcoming years. Word of advice though: be careful when using AR. When it works well it’s a great tool, but when it fails….things can get ugly…

EZface allows you to email your virtual mirror results to friends...though I think I'm going to skip that option.

[image credit: EZface]

[source: IBM, EZface]

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