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PropTech Today: How Augmented Reality has gone from zero to hero

As Augmented Reality (AR) and Microsoft’s Hololens showcase the finest in modern architecture, it’s time for me to think again about things I’ve previously written about this technology. 

AR is on its way to becoming the most influential innovation in property, perhaps even the entire world. 

Some 18 months ago, I experienced the Microsoft Hololens for the first time and wrote about how fundamentally underwhelmed I was by the initial experiences on offer

But 18 months is an awfully long time in technology and, as predicted, we have seen a huge number of advancements and improvements throughout the AR experience. 

This fact was showcased recently as news came out that Microsoft has teamed up with the RIBA Stirling Prize to create Augmented Reality renderings of the RIBA finalist architects’ building designs.

As you can see from the video at the bottom of this piece, the standard of rendering that Hololens is now capable of is far beyond that which I experienced in summer 2016. The accuracy of the digital model, the detail of the rendering, the way in which it allows one to explore a concept building from above, as if a bird, or from within, as if walking through the finished property; it’s taken a while, but it’s finally here.

I finished my 2016 article by saying that Hololens was not yet ready to take effect on the property industry, but that in the future it certainly would be. It was, even then, an innovation on its way to becoming an $80 billion industry, according to Goldman Sachs. 

Now, it seems, we are within inches of reaching that point, and whereas before I could see no immediate application within property for the Hololens, the RIBA Stirling Prize demonstrates this is no longer the case. 

How can AR help property?

For me, the most immediate and obvious use of AR and Hololens in property is to do as RIBA has done and use it to create renderings and experiences of developments not yet built. 

Today we rely on an artist's rendering to demonstrate the finished building, maybe a CGI promo video. This is how investors gain a better understanding of what they’re being asked to invest in. But imagine actually being able to walk into and around a future development - that first-hand experience is incredibly powerful, more so than any drawing can be. 

Being able to let stakeholders walk through the atrium of a proposed building and count the koi in the koi pond is a far from simple task, one which I imagine is still a way off being rolled out in an affordable package, allowing AR experiences to become the norm. But large, high-profile developments are already onboard, and over time, the technology will become easier and cheaper to access. 

The same applies to those who are involved in designing and building a new development; architects, engineers, construction workers, etc, AR allows them to get closer to a project than ever before, deeper inside for greater understanding. The result will be far more efficient and sustainable projects, as new ideas can be trialled and tested in Augmented Reality. 

Check out this video to see one example of how it all works.

The other end of the scale

As well as the super hi-tech side of things, there are also much more simple AI products coming into the property market, ones which may border on gimmicky, but demonstrate great future potential. 

Dulux, the paint company with that shaggy dog, has an AR smartphone app that allows you to change the colour of your walls; pretty good idea. 

Similar apps exist for furniture, such as Ikea Place, allowing customers to place items of furniture within their homes before deciding on the purchase. 

AR is even being used to visualise the subterranean infrastructure, i.e., where pipes and cables are running underground.

Once it’s available, it flies

I realise the value of such apps is limited, but I also imagine that all of us, if we had access to AR, would use the opportunity to experiment with colour, or placing and replacing potential furniture purchases. 

Apple, among others, are acting to address that issue of accessibility and their new range of smartphones come fitted with AR as standard. The more people who have AR in their pocket, the faster the technology will improve. Yes, they currently cost a grand, but it’s early days.

It’s early days for AR as a whole. That’s why it still requires you to wear elaborate headsets or view the world through a touchscreen. But the future is closer than you’d think, the future where AR fits into spectacles and sunglasses, and then contact lenses; where you walk down the street and bring up reviews for restaurants as you pass them; where hayfever sufferers can receive live information of which areas around them have the highest pollen count, directly into their eyes.

None of this is far away; it’s Moore’s Law that every two years the sophistication of an innovation doubles. AR will soon be woven into our everyday lives and it will use the entire world as its canvas. 

There is a public desire to have their technology interact with the world around them, this was proven by the phenomenal success of Pokemon Go! Although the craze was short lived, it has, without a doubt, been proof of concept and a catalyst for much AR investment since, if only due to the exposure it gave the technology. 

Because of that obvious demand, I think that in the property industry AR’s time is just around the corner. For me, its value has gone from being questionable to undoubtable in the space of 18 months. I expect that another 18 months from now AR will be the most talked about technology in property, feeding the hungry demand of professionals and consumers alike. 

*James Dearsley is a partner in PropTech Consult, digital transformation specialists for the real estate sector. To sign up to James’ Sunday PropTech Review, click here.

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