Techopia Live: SMITH Labs brings e-commerce to life with augmented reality

Enough talk of Amazon and Shopify: Gatineau’s SMITH dropped by Techopia Live to prove there are other companies in the National Capital Region making waves in commerce.

Mark Rigley and Ryan Valley joined the show, and brought a little tech with them. The Microsoft HoloLens, which allows users to interact in augmented or mixed reality through an untethered headset, is one of the key pieces of technology the firm is experimenting with its newly minted SMITH Labs division.

The wider SMITH firm, which has been situated in one form another for more than 25 years in Gatineau, works with large enterprise customers and examines how it might improve clients’ online commerce experiences through modern technology.

Valley says the firm’s experiments are meant to answer simple but related questions: “What does commerce mean now, and what does commerce mean five, 10 years from now?”

This requires experimenting in virtual reality and AR, artificial intelligence in chatbots and voice-activated interfaces such as Amazon’s Alexa. (Oops, broke my own rule and brought up Amazon again.)

Each of these technologies has the capacity to overhaul online shopping experiences. With AR, for example, retailers can render three-dimensional products off-screen, and consumers could, for example, visualize how furniture and art might look in their homes.

“These new media, especially augmented reality… they’re all going to get used. There will be a day when you’ll have fancy glasses on your head… We know it’s coming, and we can get ourselves ready right now for when the wave breaks and everybody’s doing it,” Rigley told Techopia Live.

SMITH's Ryan Valley, left, and Mark Rigley on Techopia Live. (Photo by Jordan Campbell)

Current online shopping experiences are very two-dimensional and limited to screens of glass, be they on mobile or laptops. Valley says AR will bring commerce back to the real world, in the same way Pokemon GO encourages users to venture out into cities.

“It’s not about what we buy. It’s about how we buy it,” Valley said.

Rigley compares today’s emerging technologies to the invention of film, which fundamentally altered how firms marketed their products.

“Retail is theatre, fundamentally,” he says, and AR will entertain and engage consumers in exciting and as-of-yet unforeseen ways.

To see a live demonstration of SMITH Labs’ Canada 150 interactive display on a HoloLens, watch the video above.