Our inspiration and our goal:
In 2016 Nick created Get It Poppin LLC with four other friends. They had a nine-day pop-up shop in Chicago that summer. While successful, it was time intensive and costly. Furthermore, when they took their store online (getitpopp.in) customer interaction declined and sales took a hit. Pop In strives to bring the in-store experience online.
What it does:
Pop In is a VR platform for stores. This platform is highly customizable and simple to use. In the demo we gave, Pop In serves as a mobile, online pop-up shop for Get It Poppin LLC. The experience immerses the customer in the Get It Poppin brand and culture by incorporating their social media presence. As the customer moves through the shop, they are introduced to hats and then 3D models of shirts available for purchase on the website. Unlike traditional online shopping, Pop In provides a realistic rendering of the shirts as they look on a person wearing them and allows the customer to inspect every angle before purchasing. In an age where online shopping is rapidly growing in popularity, Pop In ensures the customer experience is not compromised.
Our origin story:
Pop In is the first attempt at making an immersive VR shopping experience, specifically designed towards a pop-up shop. This idea came about when the team was looking at the different project options, and realized that VR is not present in retail. This seemed counterintuitive to the team, because they all agreed that VR would be wildly successful in the retail space. Pop In is the first step to bring retail onto a VR platform.
How we built it and our challenges:
The development of Pop In started with the basics. Pop In was developed from the ground up focusing of the end user experience. Before even touching any code, the team had to research all of the different game engines that were available. This research lead us to two: Unreal Engine 4, and Unity. Unity was already installed on the computer that we rented from MLH, so we decided that it would probably be a good idea to stick with Unity.
Form there, we learned the basics of Unity for creating a VR game. The VR platform in Unity is both immersive and intimidating - resulting in slow development at the beginning of the hackathon. After Jack became relatively fluent in basic VR Unity apps, he began to develop Pop In.
While this was going on, Nick was hard at work designing the interior of the store. Thankfully this played to his CAD skills he has developed through studying Mechanical Engineering in school. He also collected all of the still 2D images that we would need for the Get It Poppin online pop-up shop.
After all of the 2D images were collected, Nick began to edit them to properly fit the parameters they had. While doing this, he would send them to Jack who would paint the images onto 3D models, or into the VR pop-up shop. This was where they had the majority of their hurdles.
Neither of the team members have formal training in art which makes designing a realistic storefront difficult. This is why they used software like Substance Painter to help them. With this software, they were able to take model shirts from a physical one as well as those based on renderings.
After they completed all of the art, we were able to quickly complete the VR pop-up shop experience. Once completed, Nick went back and did a final quality check. Following the quality check, we put away the software for the night, and went to bed before the demo.
What we learned:
From this project, we learned many different things from new angles of development. Overall, these ideas can be broken into four categories: VR work, 3D Modeling, Project Management, and User Experience.
Nobody on the team had done any VR or Unity work before today. Both of these technologies were cleared rapidly to accomplish the goal. Although they only used the barebones, they taught themselves a great foundation for growing professional skills.
Additionally, the team had to learn how to 3D model and paint. After a few hours on Google, Jack decided on using Substance Painter. This app allowed him to paint directly to the models rather that to the polygons in a 2D space. The intuitive nature of this software allowed for an relatively efficient design process.
The next main category of learning fell into project management. As a student who is actively seeking project management roles, Nick quickly assumed the position of the PM, leaving Jack as the developer. Thankfully Nick did a great job planning, and learning better design as the weekend progressed.
Lastly, the team had to learn how to optimize the user experience in VR. The team constantly tweaked the experience. Viewer height, lighting, and product placement were just a few of the many aspects that could only optimized while one member was in the VR setting relaying changes to the other on the computer. They team also decided that to make the experience truly immersive, they had to add background music. This made the shopping experience more exploratory and exciting rather than routine and mundane.
All of these newly learned tasks played large portions in the success of the project, and these skills are ones that will be carried for many years to come!
What's next for Pop In:
The next step for Pop In is to make a finalized and standardized model. From there, the team will make their own VR API. Then, any small business can use the API to make their own VR pop-up store. The team also wants to continue working in VR, and possibly scaling up towards hosting many shops all at once!