naked labs magic mirror

Mirror, mirror — on everyone’s walls. That’s the goal of Naked Labs, a three-year-old Bay Area startup with a $14 million Series A funding round led by Founders Fund. On Wednesday, the company officially unveiled Naked, its fitness-oriented “magic mirror” for the home. It also revealed a fancy version for fashion retail, to help the e-commerce business tackle its remote fitting dilemma.

The primary unit looks like a typical, though nicely designed full-length mirror that would be at home in a bedroom or a living room. But that belies the smarts inside. Studded with Intel’s RealSense sensors, the Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled system uses depth-sensing technology to capture realistic 3-D scans of the human body, explained cofounder Farhad Farahbakhshian.

The system measures 360 degrees, from crown to toes, for over 4 million points of data, and its accuracy comes in within 5 millimeters.

As the name suggests, Naked users disrobe or put on a thin, form-fitting outfit and then step onto a rotating scale that turns 360-degrees in front of the mirror. Twenty seconds later, the scan is complete, and metrics such as body fat percentage, lean mass versus fat mass, circumference, graphs of historical data and even side-by-side comparisons populate the mobile app.

The idea, according to Naked Labs research scientist Sam Winter, is to support wellness and fitness goals by tracking physical changes that can often go unnoticed to the naked eye.

“We’re a company that is solely focused on getting the most accurate body model because there’s so much it enables,” said Winter, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience with a concentration in obesity, eating disorders and body composition. The only Ph.D. outside of the computer vision team, it’s Winter’s job to have a nuanced understanding of the human body and how to talk about or show it, in order to develop features that spur real behavioral changes.

Naked Labs started with the premise that fitness-oriented people would love more insight into the effects of their workouts, and compared to the thousands in fitness equipment some consumers gladly lay out, the $1,395 asking price doesn’t seem out of line. Not that everyone can afford or is even willing to spend that much on a new product.

For that, the company is actively working to partner with gyms and retailers, so consumers could go in and have their bodies scanned. “Our mission is to make sure that scanning is available to anyone,” said Farahbakhshian, a technology professional with a background in electrical engineering, experience working in processor chips and a fitness stint teaching spin classes. “Network effects start to take place in having more users on the platform. And there’s some really interesting things that we’re working on, on the [apparel] fitting side.

naked labs magic mirror

The company envisions its smart mirror and scanning technology offering a boost to retailers battling the remote fitting dilemma.  Courtesy photo

Indeed, the cofounder sees the potential for his tech to cross over in multiple-use cases, from hyper-personalized gaming avatars to wellness or workout regimens to fashion e-commerce. The group has been watching how retailers have been grappling to match online shoppers with items that fit, and believes it has the makings for a universal standard.

“This was interesting for us,” he added. “We believe if we execute on fitness, and these go into people’s homes…we can get a standard, whether they own the hardware or once they have their body models. [Customers] don’t have to buy three sizes and return two of them.” The company also sees potential uses in custom or personalized clothing, which requires accurate details that go beyond a single size number. Because no two size 6s are the same.

To spread the word, Naked Labs is appealing to both consumers and businesses, piloting its mirror to both groups. At first blush, the detailed nature of the scans may seem like it would put people off. But in fact, Winter claims the opposite is true. Naked, she said, is a big hit among beta testers.

The tech accounts for a particular challenge in human body scanning: Make the images too realistic, and the “Uncanny Valley” kicks in, creeping people out with overly realistic renderings of their bodies. But make them too simplistic, and the visuals become less illustrative or useful.

To overcome the issue, Naked Labs opted to keep the detail, but ditched the flesh tones. The avatar shows up in shades of gray instead, pulling the image back from the brink of unsettling realism.

“We have to have a certain amount of trust when we look in the mirror,” says Cyan Banister, partner at Founders Fund. “Naked Labs takes what could be a scary body scan image and turns it into an avatar — like Marvel’s Silver Surfer. This creates a different relationship between people and their body, a more objective one because it takes the emotion out of it. We have already found users are more body positive and body-loving, and many of them keep the mirror in their living room to show off their scans to friends as a point of pride.”

Winter shared some takeaways from the beta tests: “I traveled to 25 homes outside of the Bay Area — everywhere from rural Washington to New York City— and taught people to set up and take their first scan,” she explained. “It’s not just the demographic that you’d necessarily expect; these early-adopting, hyperfit people who are walking around in their underwear anyway. It’s everything from 7-year-olds to a younger woman who wants to stay in shape, to marathon runners, and everything in between, from ages 7 to 70.

naked labs magic mirror

The mobile app can track changes over time.  Courtesy image

When asked if users hesitated to scan due to shyness or modesty, Winter responded, “Frankly, I can’t even tell you how quickly people are rushing to take their clothes off. I think there’s a level of comfort, partially because of the design of the mirror itself. It’s a familiar object, something that’s ingrained in your daily habitual routine.”

Naked Labs, as a startup coming into its own in the Facebook era, also nods to the heightened sensitivities surrounding data privacy and security. Naked’s data, noted Farahbakhshian, connects to mobile devices and gets processed locally on the phone. No raw, identifiable data transmits to the company’s servers — only heavily encrypted, anonymized information. Naked Labs also went the extra step of phrasing its terms of service in natural human language, foregoing dense fields of indecipherable legalese.

“We made a conscious choice to take the company conditions and translate them through real clean text,” Winter added. “But you see that you have to read through before you create an account, so that people are incredibly aware of the practices that we’re following and what your data is in there, and that it belongs to you. We’re just being as transparent as possible.”

Now Naked Labs, which kicked off with a multimillion-dollar pre-sale campaign in 2016, is flush with Series A funding to see its grand plans through. Apart from Founders Fund, the round included a personal investment from Partner Cyan Banister and contributions from NEA, Lumia Capital, Venture 51, Seabed VC and others. Armed with the new backing, the company will head into the next phase: Shipping for pre-order customers begins Wednesday, Aug. 1, and the broader rollout for its commercially ready mirrors will launch sometime this fall.

Intel, of course, is thrilled to have another use-case for its components. “This is a great example of how we’re enabling our customers to build products that enrich people’s lives through devices and machines that perceive the world in 3-D,” said Sagi Ben Moshe, vice president and general manager of the Intel RealSense Group.

Even more telling is Founders Fund’s investment. The San Francisco-based venture capital firm has a reputation for backing revolutionary or game-changing technologies.

“What I saw in Naked Labs was a really great team tackling an incredibly difficult problem,” Founders Fund’s Banister added. “[We’re] known for investing in big ideas, and Naked Labs is no exception. We are excited about what the team is doing, and this is just the beginning.

“Once you create a platform that hosts body models, the number of valuable services for the end user is infinite. We truly believe this will change how people interface with the Internet and their bodies.”

The biggest question now is whether interested consumers or even independent retailers can swallow that sub-$1,400 price point. The startup may believe it can create a fitting standard, but there’s no pricing standard yet for this product category, so that may wind up being the real test. 

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