Virtual AI booth to boost website imaging


ARTIFICIAL intelligence specialist, Impel, has developed an imaging system using AI that creates a virtual photo booth for uploading vehicle stock into 360-degree turntable images without needing expensive special equipment or staged photography backgrounds.

The key to the service is that anyone with a mobile phone camera can walk right around each car parked in any spot in the yard and then upload the result into Impel’s software.

The Impel app then goes to work aligning all the vehicle images captured in the walk-around to correct for camera shake and inconsistent camera movement etc. Computer vision AI then automatically adjusts the image for perspective, vehicle size and background regardless of camera distance, pitch or height.

It creates a 360-degree deep-etched view with synchronised shadowing. Processing time is about 15 minutes before being ready to be uploaded to the dealer website. Such editing typically took 48 hours.

The system also massages the images to produce the sharpest results. 

The system, called Impel’s Virtual Booth, replicates the results created by sophisticated turntable photography systems with dedicated backgrounds and lighting that can cost between $60,000 and $100,000.

A special camera on a tripod located on the centre console is used to capture 360 degree images of the vehicle interior.

Using computer vision techniques from the AI suite of skills, other individual photographs of dealership stock can be deep etched with drop shadows or have the vehicle image dropped into any background selected by the dealership; an image of the dealership, dealer branding or image of a local landmark, for example.

Number plates can be blurred or include dealers’ branding etc.

The key to the service is that dealers no longer need to make special space or background areas available for stock photography. Staff just need enough space to walk around the car. The background simply does not matter because the app eliminates it automatically. Also, anyone who knows how to use a mobile camera can capture the images.

The service is via a monthly fee for access to the software. The only capital outlay is about $400 for a Ricoh Theta camera and tripod for the interior images. The system only requires an iPhone 11 or higher (or equivalent Android) and certainly does not need an SLR camera.

Ben Cooper, the managing director, international, of Impel told GoAutoNews Premium that Impel invested in the technology to help franchise dealers in the US upload their stock into a major brand’s used car website for dealers.

“They said to all of the brand’s dealers, more than 4000 in the US, they could list their stock on the used car platform but they did not want it to look like a jumble sale. They wanted it to be consistent. So background removal became really important,” Mr Cooper said.

“With any website, manufacturer website, or dealer group website, in fact any website that aggregates inventory, there’s a huge value in making it look consistent and professional because it helps consumers navigate the inventory. 

Ben Cooper

“So, the value of the virtual booth technology is that dealers don’t have all the capital expenditure of setting up a turntable, a studio and all the expensive lighting that goes with it. They can simply capture the car on a mobile and then when they upload, it will automatically apply that virtual booth to it.”

Mr Cooper said that even if dealers have the means to invest in a photo booth, “quite frankly many of them just don’t have the physical space to set these things up, especially urban dealers and the city centre dealers. So we give them that ability. 

“The innovative dealers are looking at this and realising that these images are now at a quality where it doesn’t look like a fake car. Some of this stuff in the past looked like a floating car and it did not look realistic. But now it is at the point where the customers focus on the car without all of the background clutter and actually see it in quite a nice setting.” Mr Cooper said. 

“We certainly see dealers looking for more consistency around how they actually display the inventory online. Group websites are pulling inventory from 25 different dealerships and all the cars look different. They’ve all got different backgrounds. They’re all inconsistent. It just makes for messy websites and that is why this technology has been really well received so far.”

Impel offers automotive dealers, OEMs, and third-party marketplaces the automotive industry’s advanced customer lifecycle management platforms. The company generates proprietary conversational customer behavioural data which delivers personalised experiences at all dealership touchpoints. 

Impel’s fully integrated platform works seamlessly with all major website, CRM, and DMS platforms. To date, the company has delivered 13 billion shopper interactions and has influenced more than $3 billion in sales and service revenue across 51 countries.

By John Mellor

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