It’s not what you’d usually pick up during your weekly shop – a mini version of yourself.
But UK supermarket Asda is offering customers the chance to be scanned and turned into a 3D-printed figurine, after beginning trials of the service at their York store in northern England.
Having your whole body scanned takes between 2-3 minutes, with a small handheld machine recording images at a speed of roughly 15 frames a second, making around a 1,000 per scan.
Asda’s Head Of Personalisation, Phil Stout, said the machine reads colour as well as geometry, which means it understands the contours of the body along with the colour of the clothes identified.
“The scanner’s that sophisticated that it picks up details such as belt buckles, shoe detail wedding rings, and all the detail of the colour,” he said.
“So the output to the printer, our printer does 6 million colours – recognises 6 million colours – and that allows us to print an amazing product, screaming ‘quality’ and at an affordable price,” he told Reuters TV.
After the scan, the image is processed by a computer and then sent to be printed with coloured ceramic fluid, with each 8-inch figure taking around eight hours to produce – although the printer can create several at once.
Scanning slots were fully booked on the first trial days – with some customers travelling miles to get one.
But even with the short trial, Stout said its uses were already becoming clear.
“A gentleman came in, an older gentleman, came in earlier and his wife is in a care home, and he doesn’t get to see his wife that often, so he wanted to do a scan to give to his wife as a present. I thought that was very touching,” he said.
3D printing is increasingly used in the industrial arena.
But Britain’s second-biggest retailer believes it’s the first supermarket to offer this service on a large scale and relatively cheaply, at 40 pounds (64$ ) per figure
Asda’s Retail Director Mark Ibbotson said seeing the technology pioneered in the U.S. by Asda parent company Walmart opened his eyes to the possibilities the technology could bring.
“I think where it crystallised for me was the Walmart Innovations Lab,” he said.
“So in February I visited the Walmart head office in Bentonville, Arkansas, and saw 3D printing and saw some of the products – saw some of the jewellery, phone cases, several different things and was really thrilled by it,” he added.
“The applications were so numerous, but particularly, our customers are telling us they like new, they like innovation, and above all they like value. We saw an opportunity to bring a really innovative product to the market very quickly,” Ibbotson said.
Victoria Cumberland only popped in for some tights, but decided to buy a model to give to her grandchildren.
“Quite why they would want a model of me, but they could always stick pins in it, can’t they,” she said – her sentiment echoed by another shopper, Roger Took.
“So I would imagine I would get my wife or my children done, rather than myself. Unless they wanted something of me I suppose,” he said.
Walmart will also be watching to see how the trial works out in the UK.
But shoppers hoping for an unusual Christmas gift might be disappointed, as Asda will roll out the service in the new year if it’s a success.