Try Before You Buy: Clever Shape-Shifting Robot Mannequin

How many times have you bought clothing online that looked great on your monitor but didn’t even begin to fit right when you took it out of the box? The convenience of shopping at home hasn’t yet outweighed the huge hassle that comes from not being able to try on purchases before doling out your hard-earned cash for them (not to mention the subsequent wait for delivery). And although online sales only account for a piddly 8% of all clothing sales, returns are quite costly to retailers.

Estonian start-up company is doing its part to make online clothes shopping easier on consumers and retailers alike. Their robotic mannequin can adjust into just about any male body measurements imaginable, giving potential buyers a real-world glimpse into how a garment will fit their specific bodies. Sadly, you can’t watch the robot shape-shift into your precise measurements. The team simple places a retailer’s clothing on the mannequin and sends the ‘bot through its cycle of 2000 known body shapes. Then later, when you are shopping on that retailer’s website, you type in your measurements and the clothing styles you look at will bring up pics of how you would look in those threads.

There is only a male robot so far, and to be honest it’s kind of freaky looking – but watching it in action is amazing. Unlike dressmaker’s dummies that can only move in a couple of places, this bot can shift and change just about every part of its “body.” It’s not surprising that a female version is taking a while to build, given the female form’s higher amount of variable measurements. But once shoppers are able to virtually try clothes on before they buy, online apparel sales are bound to take a huge jump. In a recent test run, online clothing sales increased by 300% while returns decreased 28%. As far as online clothing retailers are concerned, this mannequin-bot is the greatest thing since expiring gift cards.

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See more in Robotics or under Technology. September, 2010.