Startup Spotlight: Bristles.ai uses AI to help people design their own homes
DURHAM- A large number of Americans started some kind of do-it-yourself project at home after the onset of the global pandemic. And many more have started the process by gathering visual information, using existing apps like Pinterest to organize their concepts.
But sometimes there is a lag between collecting visual images and starting a project.
“People often get stuck trying to imagine what combination of products and materials from the footage they’ve recorded would look best in their space,” said Tina Tang, co-founder and CEO of Poils.ai, which is changing the landscape of home design by integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning. “Bristles will help users move forward,” Tang said, adding that by connecting visual concepts and existing images and products to the actual physical space of a Bristles user, people could finally be ready. to take the next step to see their vision come to fruition.
Last fall, Bristles won an NC IDEA MICRO grant. The company was among the first four to receive funding from the new Triangle Tweener Fund, led by Triangle-based serial entrepreneur and investor Scot Wingo, with backing from more than 80 Triangle-area entrepreneurs and investors.
Still, the company is still in its pre-seed phase, co-founder and CEO Tina Tang said in an interview with WRAL TechWire.
But Tang and co-founder Anthony Alers expect the company’s app to be adopted when it’s ready for launch.
“Bristles will allow users to create visual plans they like, and then we’ll connect them to retailers,” Tang said, noting that home improvement itself is a $483 billion market category that has experienced a compound annual growth rate of approximately 14% each of the past two years.
And the company could also easily expand into home furnishings using the same technology architecture, a retail category worth about $146 billion, according to Tang.
“We learned from interviews that when people are ready to buy, they are open to purchasing visually similar products,” Tang told WRAL TechWire. Now, the company is working to get its “MVP,” or minimum viable product, to market “as soon as possible to get valuable feedback on user experience,” Tang said.
The secured funding is intended to support the company’s operations as it acquires new users, Tang said. Then, once the company has enough data and an established strategy, it will raise additional capital in a pre-seed round.
Origin: living in a new space
As of 2018, Alers was pursuing a doctorate. in computational neuroscience. Tang had recently decided to quit a job as a computer consultant to study machine learning in a full-time graduate program.
Moreover, they had just bought a house. Alers and Tang are engaged and, after moving into their new home, wanted their new space to feel like home, Tang told WRAL TechWire.
“We planned to DIY everything and often browsed the decor and furniture online and in stores,” Tang said. “We kept pictures of the things we liked when we came across them, but we didn’t buy them because we couldn’t say for sure that the purchases were worth it.”
What they really wanted and needed to feel confident, Tang said, “was a way to choose the decor we liked from the photos we saved to see everything together in our space. “.
But existing augmented reality apps couldn’t achieve that goal, Tang said. In graduate school, Tang took courses in computer vision and language from Dr. Vicente Ordonez, who became a mentor and encouraged the pursuit of creative applications of machine learning.
“I saw that AI had the potential to enable creativity if the technical barrier to accessing it was removed,” Tang said. “These projects have also rekindled an artistic side of myself that I had never been able to bring into my career before and I found that very fulfilling.”
Meanwhile, Alers and Tang have regularly discussed how artificial intelligence could enable greater creative activation. “But existing tools prioritized fully automating a task rather than granting the user greater creative flexibility,” Tang said. “Photo-editing apps, for example, offer AI functionality when those one-click magic filters apply to an entire image, reducing creative decisions to choosing an input image and a filtered.”
They believed not only that a richer creative experience could exist, but that they could build it.
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The hairs are born
Tang graduated in May 2021 and, together with Alers, started the business. First, Tang said, they created a mobile phone editing app that allowed users to selectively apply and combine AI-powered effects.
“To test, I used our app to apply an autumn pattern to the trees outside my window,” Tang said. “I was really into linen at the time and realized that I could use the app to visualize how a linen curtain could dress up my window.”
“That’s when we realized our photo editing app was useful for interior design visualization,” Tang said.
They quickly pivoted, with a new focus: interior design planning.
“Being able to test our ideas from all the inspiration images we recorded has completely changed the interior design game for us,” Tang said. They began testing their product using their own home as a guide, including mapping out how to update and use the space that for three years had become a dark, tangled mess of electronic wires.
They then pitched the idea to others, translating the concept into discovery talks with customers.
“We learned that there are a lot of people like us,” Tang said. “Bristles will allow users to dive into the creative process and become their own interior design artists.”
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“With computer vision, we can do more with less,” Tang said. “We can work with images instead of expensive 3D models or green screens.”
This means users of the Bristles app will be able to add photos of their physical spaces which can then become creative canvases. Then they can build realistic mockups of their space by dropping visuals, using a feature that Tang and Alers have integrated into the app.
“On the image processing side, we have developed a solution that allows the user to make precise edits on a mobile touchscreen without occlusion by their finger,” Tang said. “We leverage computer vision approaches to automatically extract objects.”
A model, for example, will recognize pixels of a chair or sofa in an image, Tang said. “Then we can extract them all at once,” Tang said. “We’ve added additional functionality for more general object extraction, such as an edge-respecting brush and a chisel tool that removes pixels that are grouped based on color or space.”
The company is currently adding users to its beta product launch, Tang noted. “We would like people to try it!”