3D Body Scanner

03/12/2013

The Future of Fashion


Body ScanI stood very still inside a dark booth and tried not to breathe. The sound of a rotary motor soon ensued and then four scanners slowly rose from around my feet toward my head with hundreds of laser beams all aimed toward and across my body. The scanners glided in synchrony on aluminum tracks as bits of beams moved all around the grooves and crevices of my body. As soon as the scanners reached the top of the booth they slowly dropped and continued to rescan and gather more information about my body. A computer, stationed across the booth, collected the scanner data and began to generate a 3D statue of my body. My statue, looking bright green, rotated on the blue computer screen. I suppose if anyone ever wanted to reconstruct a copy of me, he now has the data to do so.

Susan Ashdown, professor of fiber science and apparel design in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, gathered the images onto a flash drive and handed it to me for safe keeping. My “Total Recall” fantasy ended here, a room down the hall from the apparel design studios filled with dress forms invented in the nineteenth century. The Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design is housed in the new Human Ecology building, which is a blend of Bauhaus architecture, Mondrian paintings, and Eames details. Inside this building, time, history, arts, technology, and commerce seem to have a fluent dialogue, a language not easily understood by other practices and studies.

Ashdown and her research on apparel design and technology is emblematic of that environment. She facilitates those conversations on a daily basis in working with her students, blending arts, technology, and commerce.

Interview with Susan Ashdown

Q, Can you briefly describe the 3D Body Scanner?

The 3D Body Scanner is basically an image-making machine. The image is typically done in what we call a minimally clothed-body. It is a digital statue of yourself that can be measured. Essentially, you can have two images of yourself: minimally clothed and fully clothed. From those images, we can then analyze the space between the clothes and the body, which is something we haven’t been able to visualize before.

Q. When did you first learn about the technology?

About 15 years ago, there was only one company, called Fiberwear. It is a 3D-scanner company that served primarily the movie industry based out of California. The scanner has also been used in the design and manufacturing industry for many years. It was not until 15 years ago the company was able to develop a scanner that can scan an object as large as a human body.

Q. What other sorts of innovation do you see this technology bring?

It really opens up avenues of research in terms of clothing sizing. Before the introduction of the scanner, it was difficult to get data and measurements on the complexity of the human body. The human body is not easy to measure and there is a wide variation from proportions to postures within the population. It has been very difficult to study that. With the scanner, we now have a database of thousands of men and women with every detail of all those different bodies. This all just opens up waves of information that can be used in research.

At the Human Ecology Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design, we are finding ways of understanding body shapes and body proportions and the complex variations. Using this information, we can develop computer-generated clothing patterns and we can come up with ways of producing inexpensive, custom clothing for people. All of this just opens up possibilities of custom-design clothing with customizable features such the desired length, number of pockets, and a whole set of changes you can make to have the garment specially produced for you.

Q. What projects have Human Ecology students done with the scanner?

There have been many projects. I have had a student who studied the human body shape and how it changes as you move, such as how you stand and sit; your body shape changes as you sit and your measurements change. We also have studied how the body changes as you age, such as your shoulder, neck, torso, and leg. Your body fat also redistributes as you age. Understanding how clothing fits as you age requires that level of data and analysis. We have also done projects with virtual fit where you can take a garment we developed and drape that on the 3d body. We have also looked into functional garments such as fire fighter uniforms where we designed cooling vests to be worn under protective clothing. We have studied the ways different fabrics and materials hang on the human body.

Q. Have any of your students attempted to commercialize the 3D models?

Due to the complexity of the human body, we have not been able to bring to market any product from our projects that would be commercially viable. There is still a lot of research to be done before something viable can be brought to market. There just isn’t a finished product for the market as of today. Of course, the size of the scanner itself has been a bit of a drawback. You can’t have one in every retail store. The scanners just take up a lot of valuable retail space, but that is changing now. There is 3D Capture technology and the connect technology in many homes. The scanner has been used for more commercial purposes by mannequin makers and apparel metrics companies to improve their sizing. The new information improves the apparel business today. There is also an application of the scanner where a shopper can be scanned and the measurement is matched to the database of sizes where the shopper can be redirected to the stores and brands that carry the matching sizes. This is particular helpful because there is no standardization of sizes in the industry, so you can be a size 2 in one store and a 6 in another. This makes finding the right fit more difficult without trying on all the different clothing. There is no killer app so far. I believe that will come because we are becoming increasingly more reliant on the digital world and we do not have the same privacy issues as we did ten years ago. The scanning software are also getting easier to use and less expensive to purchase.

Q. Where do you see this technology going in the far future?

Size selection will continue to grow and the industry will expand into style selection, where there is online consulting assistance available to the consumers. Virtual fit is a place of real opportunity for research and commercial growth.

Q. How can a Johnson or a Cornell student collaborate with you and your students and bring about commercialization?

We are always looking for students to collaborate with. A combination of computer science and business students with Human Ecology students would make a powerful team to work with. It would be a great opportunity for computer science students to further develop and advance the technology. For a Johnson student, it would be a great opportunity to assess potentials of the technology and how to bring it to market. In general, I just think it would make for an exciting opportunity.

For more information, contact Susan Ashdown at Department of Human Ecology. Or visit www.bodyscan.human.cornell.edu/.
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