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13 DEC 2018
Virtual reality in real estate is no longer just an idea – here is what it can look like in practice, says Andrew Pryke of BAM Design.
Despite a lot of buzz in the press, the adoption of virtual reality (VR) has been lower than expected. In 2018, sales of hardware were reported to have been decreasing by 33.7 per cent year on year. But while there has been a decline in consumer purchases, its use by corporations for customer and employee engagement is increasing, with predictions that, by 2020, 83 per cent of VR headsets will be used in the commercial sector.
The main reason for this is that barriers to growth in the consumer sector such as hardware costs and a poor gaming experience are less of an issue for corporations, which are able to create custom responses to their needs and offset outlay through increased sales, faster manufacturing times and improved health and safety, among other benefits. Thomas Cook’s use of VR in its concept stores in Germany, Belgium and the UK resulted in a 40 per cent return on investment in three months, according to Inc.com.
BAM Design used the models and visualisations produced for Argent LLP’s regeneration of King’s Cross to create a near-complete virtual model of the entire development. This enabled a virtual tour around King’s Cross, with hotspots giving information on each of the buildings BAM had been involved in.
Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2025, the VR market in real estate could be worth £1.99bn and disrupt the way properties are let and sold. However, VR has the potential to change far more than these processes, offering a number of opportunities to engage clients and users and provide services across an asset’s lifecycle.
Traditionally, clients and users have had to rely on computer-generated imagery (CGI) and renders to envisage the way their buildings would look once complete. However, VR’s immersive environment enables them to walk through spaces before they are built, making it easier to understand how areas will look and ensure that they are fit for purpose. A virtual world also allows clients and users to explore design options quickly: with a click of a button we can analyse different layouts, move fixtures and fittings around and change interior finishes, so the client can easily engage with the design process and create the optimum experience and spaces.
Currently, teams must come together in a physical space to review a design, but VR enables us to change the way we work and cut down on unnecessary travel. Drawing directly from gaming technology, we can now create virtual buildings that can be visited remotely using an avatar, VR headset and hand controller. This enables teams in different locations to work together without leaving their respective offices. It also allows us to draw on the expertise of specialists from around the world to help address complex design issues and achieve optimum asset performance.
Thomas Cook’s use of VR in its concept stores in Germany, Belgium and the UK resulted in a 40 per cent return on investment in three months.
Typically, marketing for properties has used CGI and renders until a building is at a stage where potential tenants can visit the completed space. However, VR walkthroughs and models are giving people the opportunity to view a space before it is constructed. In addition, as such models can be uploaded to websites or smartphone and tablet applications, individuals are able to access these at any time and from any location, giving the agent the opportunity to market spaces round the clock to anyone in the world.
After the handover phase, 3D models and fly-throughs can be enhanced with extra layers of data to allow the user to engage with a building or development via applications on smartphones or tablets using simple cardboard VR viewers for wayfinding purposes, augmented with hotspots to provide details on local businesses, events and visitor information.
Augmented (AR) and mixed reality (MR), which merge the physical and virtual worlds, are also being adopted to improve efficiency during the operations phase and develop a better user experience. BAM is trialling use of the Microsoft Hololens to provide facilities management staff with the real-time information they need to carry out maintenance and operate plant and equipment safely and efficiently. The company is also looking at how the technology can be used to train staff in certain tasks, making use of the camera and microphone installed in the headset to reduce the risk of errors and failure costs.
Using Autodesk REVIT and Lumion software, BAM Design created a virtual 3D model of the proposed Atlantic Square development. All members of the team were able to log in remotely to explore the model virtually, allowing everyone to review the design and resolve any issues.
Other industries are also embracing this technology. At Boeing, AR training has already had an impact on the productivity and quality of aircraft manufacturing. In one trial it was used to guide trainees through 50 steps needed to assemble an aircraft wing section, enabling them to complete the work in 35 per cent less time than it took with 2D drawings.
Using software such as Ingress – the gaming application behind Pokémon Go – AR can be used to enhance the built environment, providing a way for developers and building owners to overlay maps or assets with data. Unlike the VR models that require a headset, AR data can be viewed using a smartphone application, making it easy for users to access the information they need such as local news, tenant details, retail opening times and special offers. It could even be adopted during the planning process to allow residents or planners to quickly identify a specific site, explore the proposals and leave comments.
VR and AR can also be used to improve health and safety on site. BAM has created VR ‘tool box talks’ on health and safety that enable site employees to identify and mitigate risks from the outset, and is also developing further VR-based health and safety training.
It’s not hard to see the potential of VR for the construction and property sectors, but as with many new technologies we are still at the trial stage. To develop its use further we need all parties – clients, users and project teams – to come together and explore how they can most effectively achieve the best outcomes. This should also involve drawing on best practice from other sectors such as manufacturing and retail, rather than reinventing the wheel ourselves.