Amazon has earned a patent for a technology scheme described as "blended reality systems and methods," which could potentially be used to create a virtual reality-enabled mirror that would allow customers to try on different virtual outfits in their own homes, according to GeekWire, which first reported on the publication of the patent.
The patent itself described a system that would use a display device with a screen positioned behind a mirror. "The display device can generate a pattern of illumination and non-illumination on the screen so that the illuminated portions of the screen substantially transmit through the mirror. Projectors can be used to illuminate objects in front of the mirror, so that the illuminated objects are reflected by the mirror."
The resulting mirror could be capable of placing the user into virtual outfits and different virtual scenes, blending together the real and virtual images — for example, a user could see him or herself trying on a bathing suit with a beach backdrop.
This patent news comes several months after Amazon announced the Echo Look, a device in the Echo family that seemed aimed at virtual try-on applications of the type that a handful of retailers have begun to embrace (Gap's Virtual DressingRoom app being one example).
But, it's worth noting that the capabilities of Amazon's 'magic mirror' sound more sophisticated compared to what you can currently do with the Look. If you could try on a new outfit and see it in a virtual setting, you might not even have to get dressed up and go out for real (according to the more introverted).
However, the patent was filed in early 2015, so it seems like Amazon was already thinking well beyond the Look at that point, perhaps to help drive purchasing decisions, particularly for apparel. Amazon's apparel strategy is still at an early stage, but the company has rapidly expanded its private-label apparel lines, and as it looks for an edge in a crowded market, the ability to use technology to create a rich e-commerce buying experience similar to the brick-and-mortar experience (including the ability to try on outfits in a realistic way) could be key.
The publishing of the patent also comes about three months after Amazon acquired a company called Body Labs, whose 3D body scanning technology could potentially be useful in advancing such a blended reality system or similar virtual reality applications. Could the Echo Look, the Body Labs tech and the envisioned blended reality system all come together eventually in some new Amazon product or application? That's not clear yet, but Amazon is clearly eyeing virtual capabilities that could provide e-commerce retailers with something to rival the in-store experience.