Why the Beauty and Fashion Industry is the Future of AR and Spatial Computing

17 May 2024

If you've been following the VR industry, you know it's been around for decades. Companies have been trying to make virtual reality a mainstream success for ages. While Apple coined the buzz-worthy term “spatial computing” with their Vision Pro headset, they're certainly not the first to try.

From the failed Virtual Boy in the 90s to the moderately successful Oculus and HTC Vive VR headsets, tech giants have struggled to find that elusive killer app. But if you just scroll through TikTok or Instagram, you'll see what's really on people's minds these days. And it definitely isn't about bigger screens to watch Netflix or play games. No, what's driving the conversation is beauty, looks, fashion, and how to glow up.

So, as transformative as spatial computing could become, the multi-trillion-dollar global beauty and fashion space will lead AR. Our universal desire to look and feel good provides the real-life use case everyone’s looking for.

The promises and challenges of AR beauty

The core premise of AR beauty is simple but compelling: Using advanced computer vision and rendering to virtually overlay any makeup look, hairstyle, outfit, or accessory onto your face and body with hyper-realistic precision. Consumers can experiment endlessly, sampling different looks and products with no mess, effort, or commitment.

If you've ever ordered a piece of clothing online only for it to look completely different (or just not fit right) when it arrives, you know how frustrating that can be—or bought an expensive watch or pair of kicks, only to regret the purchase when it doesn’t look quite how you expected.

What if you could virtually try on anything before committing your money? That's the big idea of AR beauty and fashion—getting rid of the guesswork and potential disappointment by allowing you to realistically experiment with any look or product before pulling the trigger.

But, some rudimentary AR makeup apps illustrate the significant technological challenges involved. Poor facial tracking, clunky interfaces, and unconvincing visual realism hamper the experience. Faithfully simulating the intricacies of how cosmetics interact with diverse facial geometries, skin tones, and movements at a high fidelity is an enormously complex computational problem.

Implementing AI and AR technologies

The latest breakthroughs in AI and AR technologies have proven useful in cracking these challenges. For example, Perfect Corp's AI Makeup Virtual Try-On uses machine learning to realistically render different makeup colors and textures like lipstick, eyeshadow, and more, with the simulations customized to each individual's unique facial features and microexpressions for an ultra-personalized virtual experience.

If you're not all that into fashion and beauty, this may not seem like a big deal. But for those obsessed with looking their best, the ability to visualize any look or product before buying could be hugely transformative.

Their AI Skin Analysis tech goes further, using artificial intelligence to scan faces and detect 14 different skin conditions and concerns, then surfacing customized product and skincare recommendations tailored to the user.

And the AgileHand technology allows realistic virtual try-ons to extend beyond just faces by precisely tracking hand motions. This enables photorealistic AR visualizations for intricate products like jewelry, watches, and nail polish.

Some other AR beauty solutions include Makeup AR for virtual makeup try-ons, AI Foundation Shade Finder and Matcher for accurate skin tone detection and foundation shade matching, AI Skin Analysis for accurate skin concern detection and personalized product recommendations of products, and Emulation Technology for Skincare Treatment for accurate representations of the expected results of a course of treatment, overlaid directly onto their faces with the latest advancements in AR technology.

The AI tech for AR beauty

The recent renaissance of AI breakthroughs, especially around areas like generative adversarial networks (GANs), facial semantic segmentation, and neural rendering, is what's enabling the kind of hyper-realistic and personalized AR experiences that were merely SciFi just years ago.

Using GANs, AI models can now learn to generate highly realistic representations of human faces, facial attributes, and facial animations from just a handful of source images. This opens up possibilities for instantly generating virtual makeup looks and hairstyles that are custom-tailored to each user's individual facial geometry and characteristics.

Facial semantic segmentation allows AI to precisely understand and map out different facial features like skin, facial hair, eyelashes and more - enabling AR effects to seamlessly integrate and move in harmony with the user's face.

Neural rendering techniques leveraging AI can also realistically synthesize the complex ways light interacts with different materials and textures in real time, far beyond what's possible with traditional rendering pipelines.

Looking ahead, AI is set to transform AR beauty experiences into something much more akin to having a personal beauty guru. Using deep learning, an AI assistant could continuously analyze your unique attributes, habits, and preferences, automatically surfacing ideal products, trendy looks, and personalized recommendations for you to try virtually in AR with just a voice command or subtle gesture.

The possibilities extend far beyond just virtual try-ons. AI could help formulate bespoke beauty products optimized for your individual needs and environmental conditions. Or DTC brands could let customers co-create new cosmetic products and shades with the assistance of AI.

The takeaway: Beauty and fashion are the AR killer app

While the metaverse is still largely vapourware, the humble makeup tutorial may push spatial computing into the mainstream sooner than we think. With an insatiable consumer appetite for looking our best and plenty of money to be made, the global beauty and fashion industry has both the motivation and resources to drive AR innovation and adoption harder than any other sector.

If executed well and key technical barriers around rendering, tracking, and hardware are overcome, AR holds the transformative potential to reshape how we discover, purchase, use, and even perceive beauty products. Immersive virtual try-on experiences, AI-driven personalization, and participatory product development could not only reinvent the beauty consumer experience but also make individual self-expression more accessible than ever before.

So, as the tech world covers each new OS update and app ecosystem announcement, keep your eye on the influencers and beauty fanatics pioneering the spatial computing frontier with a fresh face of makeup in every video. They may low-key catalyze the next ubiquitous computing paradigm while just trying to look fly.