The pace at which technology moves forward can be stunning. Just ask artist, designer and 3D visionary, Isaac Katz.
Katz has been giving a lot of thought to the future of retail, and he recently discovered what he considered a far-off flight of fancy was indeed not so fanciful.
Katz began by considering the creative tools he uses to realize his beautiful works of art, jewelry and sculpture via what he calls “simulation-based design.” He then moved on to think about how those ideas and software might be used to construct the retail shopping experience of the future.
But while on a trip to Chicago, he was stunned to learn that realizing the vision he'd just outlined in his mind was closer to reality than he had imagined.
“It's actually much closer than I first thought,” Katz said. “I got to meet with some people who are doing extraordinary work in the field.”
According to Katz, 27, a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a resident of Mexico City, a pair of informal chats he had with some recent contacts leads him to believe the future of a print-on-demand retail world may be only a scant few years off.
As he spoke with 3D tech wizard Turlif Vilbrandt, and then 3D scanning expert Michael Raphael, he said he could envision how their groundbreaking work might fold neatly into his blueprint of the retail shopping experience of tomorrow.
Imagine for a moment a scenario where a potential customer could use motion capture technology and perhaps yet-to-be-developed non-CAD software (wedded to 3D printing technology) to create a product tailored specifically to their needs and tastes – and then watch that product produced in real time.
It's that combination of simulation technology and 3D printing which forms the core of Katz' “store of the future” concept. Katz began by comparing the retail store of the present (which relies on pre-designed and fabricated products), and a vision of the “neo-store” in which customers could purchase an array of goods uniquely realized according to their specifications.
Katz says this worldview has the virtue of allowing retailers to cut costs by slimming down complex distribution chains and, perhaps more importantly, engages customers in the creative process as participants in the full retail experience.
Katz says that while the technology is catching up fast, it's not there yet, and it might be a couple of years down the road before anyone realizes the full vision.
“Getting a full-body scan is now possible, but costly,” Katz said. “What's missing is integration to data that's usable on the fly. The capturing technology is there, but making use of the data is the problem. I can scan a hand, but it will take me a long time to make that data into an output I can easily use. The system as a whole does not exist yet.”
Katz' toolbox includes software like Zbrush and Mudbox from which he creates files for projection onto canvas or export to 3D printers to make his distinctive sculptures and jewelry casts.
As for what it would take to fully realize his vision of the retail store of the future, Katz is realistic when it comes to the major hurdles to overcome, and what it would take to push them aside.
“If I had a couple of million dollars, we could be there right now, maybe in a couple of months,” Katz said. “The technology is getting there, but right now, the products would have to be made out of nylon or plastic.”
In a perfect world, Katz said he hopes to develop an interface when the seller and the customer act as “co-creator and co-designer.” To make that work, he says that interface would need to restrain the scope of changes a customer can make to ensure the final product was acceptable.
“What I want to do is provide software which serves as a solid foundation for people to start with, but in a guided, curated process which ensures that they're satisfied with the result,” he said.