Bugao Xu, chairman of the Division of Textiles and Apparel in the School of Human Ecology, is bringing the world of "The Jetsons" closer to reality.
Xu is developing a system to perform body scanning, body modeling, body measurement and virtual try-on for the apparel industry. When it's completed he expects people to step into a dressing room, undress, get a two-second scan and walk out of the store minutes later with a file that contains a 3-D representation of themselves. With that information, they'll always be able to try clothes on, virtually, from the comfort of their computer.
Such a system, he says, will not only make the consumer experience more pleasant and convenient, it should also help apparel retailers by cutting down on mail-order returns, and by making mass customization possible and profitable.
Xu's research focuses broadly on three-dimensional scanning and representation, and his fascination lies not so much in the particular object, person or feature he's trying to characterize as it does in the challenge itself.
"I look for a problem," says Xu. "I'm interested in situations where, for instance, maybe there's a system in place, but it's not a very good or practical one."
Xu's quest for problems has propelled him into other fields. When the Texas Department of Transportation was looking for a better way to identify cracks in the state's highways, Xu developed a bumper-mounted scanning system to do the job. Unlike the old system, which depended on inspectors eyeballing the roads, usually while driving at low speeds, Xu's system functions at speeds up to 70 mph, and it automatically identifies most cracks in the highway.
Xu is also working with nutritional sciences professor Dr. Jeanne Freeland-Graves, who studies obesity, to adapt his scanning system to quickly and non-invasively assess a person's volume (which makes possible body-fat percentage measurements). It's an immediate improvement, says Xu, on the old method, which required people to submerge themselves in a pool of water in order to obtain a measure of their volume. That method was, aside from being inconvenient, impractical for children, the elderly and the morbidly obese.
In the future, Xu hopes to expand his research into other realms-like biomedical engineering-and he hopes to see his body scanning system brought to the clothes-buying masses.
"The apparel industry is in a lot of flux right now," says Xu, "so it's hard to say exactly what will happen. But doing this makes sense, and we have the technology."