Marshalls' miracle makeover
There's hardly a week goes past without someone emailing or 'phoning me to ask whether I know of any program that could be loaded with a photo of an existing driveway or patio which would then be magically transformed to show what it could look like if re-paved with this or that or t'other. It would be a great selling aid for many of the residential paving contractors as it would allow them to present 'before' and 'after' images to a potential client and make selling the project that much easier.
Well, the hot news is that Marshalls have come up with something that makes this dream a reality.
I've had a self-made programme that can almost do this, in a very primitive way, but I've never been happy with finished images: perspective has always been a problem. It's not problem doing the transformation for a monolithic surface, such as concrete, PIC, bitmac or resin aggregates, but for a paved surface, getting the 'lines' to look right at any given angle has been beyond me. Maybe I should stick to flagging and html and leave the jiggery-pokery to the techno-boffins!
The basic premise behind the Marshalls' Driveway Visualiser is very simple. You upload a digital photo of the driveway to be "visualised" (or choose a stock photo from the online gallery), and then mask off the area to be paved using a marquee procedure that will be familiar to most users of graphics programs such as PhotoShop. In essence, you use your mouse to trace the outline of the driveway - you can extend the area over an existing patch of lawn or garden, if you wish, and there's a very simple "undo" function if you go astray.
Once the proposed driveway has been masked, you're offered a selection of Marshalls' paving blocks. Simply choose your preferred block and colour option, and then choose a laying pattern. Once you've made up your mind, the masked area is 'flood filled' with an image of the chosen paving. The really clever bit, the bit that has given me headaches for the past 10 years or so, is that the angle of the pattern can be rotated to align correctly, and so perspective remains correct.
The next stage involves choosing an edge course and/or kerb and/or drainage channel which are then added to the overall design, albeit as a separate "close-up' detail image. There's even a facility to include circle or octant features. Finally, you can choose to save and print your design, or have it forwarded to three local pet Marshalls' "approved" contractors for them to price. Entering your postcode brings up a list of local stockists where you can see the actual paving "in the flesh".
Overall, this is a great piece of technology and exactly what the web should be used for. Too many manufacturers' web-site are plain 'brochure-ware', online replicas of their catalogues. It's a real fillip to see that, at long last, the big players in the paving industry are waking up to the fact that the web offers a totally different way of marketing products and presenting information.
There are some minor niggles, such as the need to have broadband and the inability to accurately detail curves or to portray the edge courses/kerbs as part of the 'main' image, but I'm being really picky in mentioning these. Credit where credit's due - this really is a fantastic application and one that you can (and will!) spend hours playing with. You can bet your bottom dollar that it won't be too long before the other large manufacturers offer something similar.
Over the weekend, Paul Hill, Digital Communications Manager at Marshalls, told me,
"Marshalls is yet again leading the way in driveway transformation with the introduction of its Driveway Visualiser. Literally, customers can upload a picture of their own tired driveway and transform it on-line via a few simple steps into a stunning Marshalls' driveway!"
I think this is the best online application for the paving industry to date. It would be a good idea to make it available offline, so that contractors could load it onto a laptop and use it as a sales aid for those customers who don't have broadband access, but I know there are "issues" with providing offline versions of such applications. As more and more of the population gain access to broadband, it will become a simple matter of a contractor turning up with a digital camera to photograph the existing layout and then guide the customer through the design process, assuming that the customer hasn't already done this for themselves!