How many times have you bought a piece of furniture, had it shipped to your home and put it in place only to find it doesn’t look right? What seems perfect in a showroom may prove a bad fit, aesthetically or size-wise. That’s one of the reasons household furnishings tend to have high rates of customer returns.

Rakuten engineers are deploying the latest in augmented reality (AR) technology to help solve these problems. Their latest creation is a smartphone app that projects 3D renderings of furniture available on Rakuten Ichiba, Rakuten’s online shopping mall, onto a camera view of your home or office interior. Rakuten Furniture, as the AR app is tentatively known, allows users to check out how an item might look in a room, how it fits, and, thanks to a social media sharing function, what friends think of it, too.

The app in AR mode

The app in AR mode

The app is easy to use. Once opened, it will display the camera view in an AR window. Simply tap one of the furniture icons on the right-hand side of the window (for instance, a sofa icon) to display the object rendered in 3D. Once placed, the object can be rotated and set anywhere in the scene. It will stay in the same spot in the room regardless of whether the perspective changes.

“If you have two viewpoints, such as two different camera angles, the app can accurately determine the size of the room,” says Rakuten Institute of Technology’s Tomoyuki Mukasa, who is working to ensure the app can deal with lateral motion of the camera while preserving a virtual object’s position and orientation.

Users can also display an object’s dimensions alongside its 3D rendering and, unlike similar apps, they can buy the item in question directly through the app. In addition, there’s an immersive virtual reality (VR) function, allowing the app to be used with smartphone VR headsets or dedicated VR goggles such as Oculus Rift.

Screen capture of the AR mode

Screen capture of the AR mode

“The cost of 3D modeling is far lower nowadays compared to in the past and we can easily find thousands of 3D items,” says Rakuten Ichiba developer Vijay Javagal, adding that plastic VR headsets for smartphones can now be had for as little as 3,000 yen ($27).

The technology is already being used for previews of real estate and rental venues. Rakuten’s Virtual Wedding System is a similar platform for checking out wedding venues with immersive, interactive 360-degree views. The engineering team recently showed off the furniture app during a demo at Takashimaya Department Store in Nagoya. They received over 500 visitors and lots of positive feedback.

Mukasa, Javagal and colleagues are currently working on incorporating Rakuten Furniture into the Rakuten Ichiba app, which features more than 2 million household interior products. In addition to furniture for the home and office, it could be used to preview electronics, lighting and appliances. The next step will be completing another VR component that will allow users to navigate furniture showrooms, make their selections and then place them in their own homes – all in virtual space.

“In the future, you could furnish your whole house in VR,” says Javagal.