TechCrunch has learned that Amazon has acquired Body Labs, a company with a stated aim of
creating true-to-life 3D body models to support various b2b
software applications — such as virtually trying on clothes or
photorealistic avatars for gaming.

One source suggested the price-tag Amazon paid for Body Labs
could be $100M+. However a second well-placed source suggested
it’s closer to $70M than $100M — so we’re pegging it at between
$50M and $70M.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment on the acquisition.

New York based Body Labs was founded in March 2013, according
to CrunchBase, and had raised more than $10M
across two investment rounds — closing an $8M Series A in November 2015.

The company says its AI, computer vision, and body modeling
expertise stems from research started at Brown University and
the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems.

Co-founder and CEO Bill O’Farrell lists a number of prior exits
in his Body Labs’ biog: namely SpeechWorks, acquired by Nuance;
CoSA acquired by Adobe; and OpenAir acquired by Netsuite.
Apparently he can now chalk off a fourth.

At the time of writing Body Labs had not responded to requests
for comment.

The company’s social media accounts have been quiet since
August, which may indicate the deal closed recently.

Modeling the human body

Video demos on Body Labs’ website show
its tech being used to augment a human with digital content as
the person moves around by cladding them in a full-body gaming
avatar ‘suit’ or adding boxing gloves and bunny slippers to a
dancing man.

Body Labs also says its “SOMA Shape API” can be used to
“accurately predict and measure the 3D shape of your customers
using just a single image”, suggesting this can power “custom
apparel” or be used by fashion ecommerce retailers wanting to
offer sizing recommendations.

The company also suggests additional uses-cases for its ‘fat
and all’ 3D body modeling tech in health and fitness tracking,
and even equipment design and manufacturing.

In a video from 2015, O’Farrell suggests highly
accurate 3D body scans will enable “the body itself [to] be
delivered as the platform and around which goods and services
are designed, manufactured, bought and sold, recommended.”

It’s not clear exactly what Amazon intends to do with Body Labs
but there are plenty of potential use-cases that mesh with and
could extend its existing business interests if the startup has
the tech chops to deliver accurate 3D body models at scale.

For example, as well as selling other brands’ clothes via its
ecommerce marketplace, Amazon has been ramping up its own
fashion business in recent years, expanding and growing its
private label fashion brands.

Being able to offer custom fit could give Amazon’s private
label fashion brands an edge, even as improving sizing
predictions generally for Amazon shoppers could help drive
clothes shopping across its platform and help shrink returns
from clothes that don’t fit.

A recent Amazon Prime member perk offers free returns for a
try-before-you-buy clothes service called Amazon Wardrobe. And the service would
clearly be cheaper for Amazon to run if fewer people returned
fewer items of clothes.

CEO Jeff Bezos has long listed fashion as one of two key areas
he sees underpinning his sizable ambitions for Amazon’s
ecommerce empire (food being the other).

The company also has big extant interests in another potential
area where Body Labs’ tech could fit: gaming.

It runs its own games studios — fed by earlier
acquisitions such as Double Helix Games, which it picked
up back in 2014. It also
distributes Lumberyard, a free AAA game engine integrated
with AWS and Twitch; and offers GameLift,
a managed service for deploying and managing servers for
multiplayer games.

This summer it emerged the company had acquired GameSparks, a “backend as a
service” for games developers too. So it has a well established
interest in pushing the envelop on video game content — say by
being able to offer gamers photorealistic avatars.

And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of how 3D body model
technology could play in the VR world, if you’re taking a
longer view on potential use-cases. (Or indeed, for AR and AR
gaming purposes.)

Games is generally an area of strategic interest for Amazon not
only because the content can be highly popular and lucrative in
its own right, but as another way to drive usage of its cloud
computing division, Amazon Web Services. The more content it
can host, the more revenue AWS can generate.

Yet another potential use-case for 3D body model tech could be
in the comms space where Amazon has recently been making a new
play, including in the visual communications space — as part of
a much bigger push to own the smart home by releasing a blitz
of connected devices housing its Alexa voice AI.

This May Amazon outted an Echo device
with a screen aimed at family videocalling.

Oh hey there, Echo Look

It has also released another Echo device (called Look) that’s specifically designed for
taking style selfies. So it’s possible the company might be
interested in tech that can power visual transformations for
fun and fashion-based purposes — such as by being able to add
real-time effects to people’s faces and bodies during an Echo
Show videocall, for example, a la Snapchat selfie lenses.

And Body Labs has a mobile AI called Mosh for
adding special effects photos using based on its tech detecting
and adapting to the person’s pose.

Or — for more practical, ecommerce-related purposes — to enable
users of its Echo Show to virtually show off a fashion item
they’re thinking of buying by having computer vision software
digitally animating it on a photorealistic body model. So they
could, for example, ask their mum for a second opinion on the
dress they’ve been eyeing up — and then just ask Alexa to buy
it.

How Amazon could do much more with Echo by adding a camera to
drive blended reality into the living room was a topic
TechCrunch dug into back in 2015.

However one key consideration here, in the specific case of
Body Labs, is it’s not clear exactly what core technology the
company is using for generating accurate 3D scans.

In some of its video demos Body Labs can be seen using
person-sized scanners to generate highly accurate body models —
a technology that clearly does not scale for the kind of
massive consumer purposes Amazon would be after. Though it also
claims to be able to extrapolate body models from “everyday
photos or videos”.

One of its co-founders, and also its science advisor,
Dr Michael Black, is a computer vision expert who has
worked on modeling realistic 3D human
avatars by extrapolating pose data from photos — and that kind
of approach, if it proves robust enough, would offer a more
viable route for Amazon to scale viable body models to millions
of consumers.

So it’s also possible the Body Labs acquisition is mostly an
acquihire for Amazon, aimed at picking up talent and expertise
for handling the data it’s hoping to gather via its Echo Look
device which — notably — contains an on-board depth sensor so
could be used to extract 3D data on body form via users’ style
selfies.

As we wrote in April, the Echo Look style selfie device
very much looks like a way for Amazon to harvest people’s full
length selfies to start to build its own dataset for size and
fit, which neatly dovetails with its ecommerce fashion
ambitions.

Bezos could therefore be hoping to put Body Labs’ team to work
on reverse engineering the body data it pulls off Echo Look and
arrive at viably accurate 3D body models without consumers
needing their own shower-sized in-home scanners. Instead they’d
just need to have an Echo Look sitting on their shelf.

 

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