The Future of Shopping: Feeling Fabrics Through Haptic Technology

Applied Data Science with Venture Applications (INDENG 135)

Felipe Barragán, Jocelyn Thai, Lyle Lalunio, Medha Maddileti, Selina Wu, and Zhannguanglu Wang

Beginning this past summer, the UC Berkeley Innovation X collaboration with lululemon athletica inc. created the haptic technology team, which was tasked with creating a product that invokes “wow” moments that will put lululemon in the forefront of athletic wear retail. Their idea was for a device that would attract new and old customers and open up a new world of consumer experiences. After a long brainstorming phase revolving around haptic technology, they continuously circled back to the UltraLeap STRATOS™ Explore. This device allows consumers to “feel” objects subject to the backend code via ultrasonic waves.

Throughout the summer, the team struggled to find a way for consumers to access this haptic technology. Felipe Barragán Sánchez, team lead, stated, “We saw two options, placing the Ultraleap STRATOS™ Explore in the store or creating an app that customers could download on their phone and feel fabrics through vibrations. The problem with setting the UltraLeap STRATOS™ Explore in-store was that having the clothing articles in hand was already available, rendering the machine useless unless to create an extraordinary experience. As for the phone app option, after going through intensive research, we realized that cell phones on the current market do not emit a strong enough wavelength to create a sensation of a physical material. Therefore, the idea of a haptic kiosk arose.“

The haptic’s team integration of a kiosk is a mixture of the benefits of the two options above: allowing consumers to “feel” the different types of fabrics as they would in-store and shop at their convenience while still creating a “wow” moment. With the integration of a kiosk, lululemon can place these machines where building a store is not feasible. As explained by Jocelyn Thai, team member, “Currently lululemon has 521 worldwide and 315 stores in the United States. Although that’s quite a large number, the option of going to a physical store is still not accessible to everyone. However, the kiosk can solve this problem and serve in many areas where people can access this unique option. While conducting consumer interviews, some examples of locations were: college campuses, gyms, country clubs; places where lululemon customers typically visit. Not only is setting up a haptic kiosk much more inexpensive than building an entire store, but it also gives lululemon a greater presence in the athletic retail world.”

While the haptic team finally solidified their idea, then came the challenging part: Coding the Ultraleap Haptic Machine, along with creating the additional software interfaces and technology required for the entire user experience.

Along with each kiosk being equipped with the UltraLeap STRATOS™ Explore that will have the ability to emit ultrasonic vibrations to make people “feel” the fabrics in mid-air, the haptic team also took on the task of creating a visualization alongside the haptic sensation through Unreal Engine and the screen landing page, that is a replica of the lululemon website, with the option to “feel” the fabric through Figma. From Medha Maddileti, a team member, “The kiosk experience as a whole will not only allow the user to feel the fabric but will also create an incentive for customers to purchase the lululemon clothing items.”

From a bird’s eye view, the haptic kiosk is relatively straightforward: the customer will browse through the kiosk, just like how they would browse on lululemon’s online site. When the customer clicks on one product, the kiosk will provide an additional “feel it” option. Once that is clicked, the Ultraleap STRATOS™ Explore will indicate the customers to correctly place their hand above the haptic pad. Once the hand is in the ideal position, the customer will “feel” the emitted ultrasonic waves that resemble the specific fabric they are shopping for, and the screen will also display their hand in real-time, virtually touching the piece of fabric to make the sensation more realistic.

Constructing each interface takes quite a bit of time and expertise on the backend, so the team is still very much in the trial and error phase. However, team member Lyle Lalunio stated, “the haptic team has made a lot of progress throughout the fall semester in understanding the physics behind the fabrics and running user testing to determine what algorithms and parameters can create the most realistic combination of elasticity and texture.”

At the end of this fall semester, Lulu Wang, a team member, expressed joy that “we have successfully constructed a physical prototype with plywood, which we were able to run the entire user experience from Lyle’s PC and a few iPads.” Overall, the team has accomplished a minimum viable product (MVP); the next steps are to continue building upon their MVP to replicate the haptic feeling as close to the actual fabric itself.

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