Man wearing VR headset

Is this the real life? Augmented + virtual reality in property

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Emma Gordon

You may not be among the millions still hunting Pokemon around your neighbourhood.

You may not have used Ikea’s augmented reality app – using Apple’s ARKit – to see if a BILLY bookcase really would look good against that living room wall.

But if you’re involved in the property sector, chances are you’ll soon come across virtual (VR) or augmented reality (AR), if you haven’t already.

What is augmented and virtual reality? 

VR is a computer-generated simulation of a real-life environment, which people interact with by wearing kit such as helmets or goggles. 

AR enhances an existing environment with a computer-generated one. Here, you’ll normally interact with the virtual elements using a smartphone or tablet. 

Simple? 

Not quite, there’s more: mixed reality, or MR.

The lines between MR and AR in particular are somewhat murky, but in relatively simple terms, mixed reality overlays virtual content over actual surroundings to produce an environment where both physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. 

Bruntwood using VR for property viewings

Manchester-based Bruntwood has utilised VR in its property viewings

Why are they important for property? 

They’re already transforming the way we design, build, sell, rent and fit-out property.

For example, in the residential sector, buyers and investors use VR technology to step inside properties, built or unbuilt, and take a digital tour.

For construction, augmented reality has potential for training. Harvard Business Review reports Boeing is using augmented reality to show trainees how to assemble a wing section — work that’s now being completed with high accuracy 35% faster than before.

While on the build site itself, sophisticated AR is now being integrated into industry-standard hard hats, meaning engineers can take their BIM model to a construction site, and effectively experience it in that environment.

Who’s working in this area now and what are they doing? 

The number of firms in this area is growing fast, here are just a few examples that caught our eye. 

DAQRI’s Smart Helmet | Allows builders, engineers, and designers to overlay a BIM model on the construction site, giving access to multi-layered building information and allowing crews to see spatial relationships better, potentially detecting MEP clashes earlier and minimising errors. Last year, Skanska UK announced it was the first UK contractor to trial the technology 

Revere 3D | Full-service visualisation agency which has developed a tool for new-build virtual tours called MarvelVR for walking through new residential and commercial properties. Clients include Legal & General and Keller Williams Realty.

Trimble | In January 2018 launched its mixed reality “hard hat solution” incorporating Microsoft HoloLens technology, which is expected to be available in the first quarter of this year. It integrates the HoloLens holographic computer with an industry-standard hard hat and allows for 1:1 ratio holographic data to be used on site to compare plans against work completed.

CBRE | Has digitised the process of office test fit-outs. The real estate and consultancy firm says users can submit their own plans and generate 3D models, which they can navigate on a touch screen. It incorporates building codes and real word views into a 3D environment.

VRPM | Just one of a number of companies that creates 3D marketing content for property companies in the UK and beyond. The London firm is an official Matterport service partner offering what it calls “next-generation immersive virtual tours” with prices starting at £60.

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Raise your hand if you thought VR was going to be a short-lived fad made for PR gimmicks…

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