Showing different customisations to customers helps them find the most suitable product for their needs. However, there are cost and time barriers to doing this efficiently with a physical product. Augmented Reality (AR) can help showcase different customisations in real-time. This premium experience brings the customer on a journey where possibilities previously limited to the imagination come to life. Whether a playful or practical use case, AR creates an emotional bond and signifies that a brand seeks to deliver a product that goes above and beyond.
We met with one of the largest airlines in Europe to discuss their exciting digital transformation. One of their products, custom airplane build-outs, enables customers to design the airplane of their dreams. They work with a customer to tailor many parts of the aircraft. From the interior layout and cabin furnishings down to the fabric used for the seats, the airplane comes together piece by piece. Most of these choices are made by sifting through traditional catalogs, so a lot is left to the imagination until the late stages of the processes.
For such a premium customer, surely there should be a way to provide a more premium, state-of-the-art experience.
We thought this would be a great use case to explore how modern Augmented Reality could bring the customer experience to life. A client could mix and match options in 3D right in front of them. In real time, they could explore countless different configurations. From a business point of view, it is an opportunity to go above and beyond to show the high quality of the brand and product.
During the project, we applied the design thinking approach to go from understanding the problem to the final prototype. Design thinking is a systematic approach to dealing with problems and developing new opportunities. It is the ideal framework for creating innovative products that satisfy the end-user.
We traveled back on site to the client to meet with stakeholders from different roles, from design and engineering to business development. Keeping the scope focused, we aimed to learn from many perspectives to develop a shared understanding of how they deliver their custom aircraft product to customers. Together, we reviewed competitors, benchmarked other AR experiences in the aviation industry, and gained a greater understanding of their challenges.
With these insights, we sketched out ideas and decided on a minimal proof of concept prototype that would be suitable for experimenting with transforming the current product to a premium customer experience.
Then came time for the heart of the experimentation - prototyping! Novoda assembled a team: a designer, a mobile developer, and a product manager with an affinity for AR. To shorten the feedback loop, we had very short mini-sprints (maximum 1 week) with lightweight planning to reduce the overhead and get the product to a validation stage as quickly as possible. After just a handful of mini-sprints, the prototype was presented back to the client and ready for testing.
The proof-of-concept prototype was built natively for iOS using Apple’s ARKit. We built for iOS because this operating system is more widely adopted in our target group and because we aimed at providing a high-fidelity experience together with an iPad.
The 3D model of an airplane, animates into the real world — creating an experience where the airplane drives right into your live camera's view for you to explore. The airplane object's final animation position is controlled by the position of a target image placed on any surface. Using a target helps with quality control and consistency of the customer experience. The app detects the target image's position and tracks it dynamically by taking advantage of ARKit's image detection and tracking capabilities released in September 2018.
Once the airplane becomes part of your real world, you can explore the full range of its exterior and interior with high precision. In ARKit terminology, this is called "world tracking". Under the hood, ARKit's world tracking is made possible via visual-inertial odometry — a technique that utilizes readings from the device's sensors to create a mapping of the real to the virtual world.
In addition to expanding the items for customisation to include a robust catalog, future iterations of the prototype could unlock more of ARKit's technical capabilities such as allowing customers to have shared experiences that persist over time. For example, if a customer was using the app to create a custom build of an airplane, they would be able to collaborate with a team on the same, shared experience over multiple sessions. Great projects take time to construct, so they would be able to make changes incrementally — saving and going back to the proverbial drawing board over multiple sessions.
Augmented Reality opens many possibilities for enriching experiences to make them more immersive, and this prototype is just the beginning.