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Selling the World, Virtually

Spatial computing is beginning the slow crawl to maturity. As the technology develops into something simultaneously more complex and also more stable, new areas of possibility open and grow. Since the beginning, avid enthusiasts have seen hope of a reformation of the real estate industry with the help of spatial computing, but it’s only now that real solutions are starting to be feasible.

Augmented reality projection rooms. Virtual reality walkthroughs. Mixed reality remodelling. These are just some of the potential ways that the act of buying and selling property will begin a seismic shift. We’ve collected five different projects that are using spatial computing to revamp real estate — plus, our breakdown of how successful we think they will be.

#1. 360 Walkthrough

The idea of a 360 walkthrough isn’t new, but until recently the technology has limited these “previews” to a flat experience. You could view a home on your computer, running around a space using the same drag and drop technology that Google Maps used to let us explore the world. Thanks to head mounted displays, those 360 walkthroughs are now even more immersive, and because 360 cameras have gotten so cheap and easy to use, every realtor can and should be adding a 360 walkthrough to their listings.

Because the cost of entry is so low, 360 walkthroughs are still a smart place to start, but this technology is quickly being overshadowed. There’s no real sense of immersion, since your point of view is limited to wherever the camera was initially placed; viewers don’t have the freedom to walk around, putting themselves in corners or experiencing the room from any angles the camera didn’t capture. We doubt this technology will survive more than five years, though for now the cost of hardware for alternative options will keep it afloat.

#2. Lightfield Volume Capture

Speaking of alternative options — we’re a little obsessed with light field volume capture at Hammer & Tusk, but it’s hard not to be. These cameras capture 360 video with 6 degrees of freedom, which means they can reproduce a location in photorealistic detail, and then let a person wander through that space. While creating video with this technology is still in the “so many hurdles to overcome” camp, the great news is that still pictures are ready for their mainstream debut.

There are a ton of companies working on this hardware, but none that we know of specializing specifically in adapting it for real estate. It’s a wide open playing field.

#3. Building in a Virtual World

Getting to consumers is a huge part of real estate, but what about creating buildings in the first place? If you’ve ever seen someone painstakingly hand-paint 400 tiny fake trees to put on the outside of an architectural model, you know the discipline is rife for disruption. Enter software like Vividly, which lets you create life-sized 3D models of real estate.

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Walk through your creations, share them with colleagues or clients, and even convert existing 3D models from traditional architectural software. The world is your oyster!

#4. Remodelling the Future

Okay, so you’ve bought a house, but now you want to see what it would look like with granite countertops instead of marble; or maybe you want to knock down that wall into the kitchen and create a pass-through. If that’s the future you’re imagining, you’re not alone! So many people are entering this space that it’s hard to call out just one or two.

IKEA will be taking on remodelling thanks to Apple’s ARKit, which will improve the quality and ease-of-use of previous offerings that IKEA has tested over the years.

Cadsoft is a less proprietary company; no matter which construction company you’re using, or where you’re getting your fixtures, Cadsoft will create 3D renderings and provide them for viewing in a headset or on your computer. VR viewings avoids the mobile-first issue of realism, but adds on the headache of needing the right hardware, which is solved by the backup plan of computer mockups.

The upside of this technology is that you don’t have to try to picture how a remodel will look; the downside being that you still need some imagination to turn these digital creations into their life-life alternatives.

#5. The CAVE

This technology is not technically being used for real estate today, but it has huge potential for future use-cases. CAVE is an open-source software system paired with projector hardware that primarily exists in university research settings.

Think of it has a modern Holodeck — a large room whose walls are actually rear-projection screens or flat panel displays. The images on the walls are controlled by the motion of the person inside the CAVE, allowing a sense of real immersion as the room moves realistically along with the user.

The applications for real estate are incredible. Imagine going to your realtor’s office, and instead of driving around the city to thirty showings, you could walk into the CAVE and see every home from there. You would walk around a pre-filmed environment, check out the layout, even peer into cupboards! As long as a camera captured it, you could view it.

The strength of this technology is the ‘teleportation’ factor, and the ability to have more than one person experiencing the virtual environment at the same time. Downsides are that you’re still restricting to four walls and a small space, so things like moving up and down stairs will never feel entirely real. Plus, these setups require motion-capture technology and head-mounted displays, so comfort and setup would be a concern in a commercial environment.

Academic institutions aren’t the only ones working on tech like this. We’re seeing commercial applications, too.

Originally written by Wren Handman for www.hammerandtusk.com.