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Will Virtual Reality Help Future-Proof Our Buildings?

A few years ago I bought a fixer-upper. I had an army of contractors give me professional looking bids for every aspect of the remodel. After the first few jobs were completed, I started seeing my projects consistently going over budget. Even with a concise bid, every aspect of the job line itemed, there always seemed to be a problem hidden in each wall. The house was one of the last few built in a community that eventually bankrupted the developer. Corners were cut and scrap material was used. There was no way for the contractors to know of these problems beforehand, at least not with the technology that they had when the house was built.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are the sexiest new technologies right now. They are enabled by the advances in 3D modeling. House showings, concept testing and, of course, Pokemon capturing via VR and AR have been a very public ambassador for 3D in real estate. But, while they are the most eye popping applications of the technology they might not be the most important.

What if, before the contractors that built my house hung drywall and troweled on the stucco, they took a complete 3D model of my house’s bones? It wouldn’t have fixed the issues that I had to deal with decades later, but it would have given me a much better understanding of the work to be done (and possibly could have convinced me to buy the other move-in ready house down the street).

Now, my house is small and uncomplicated, so I can’t even imagine the advantage this type of 3D modeling would have for the future skyscraper. If problems occur, instead of searching for a needle of information in a haystack of schematics, a virtual walkthrough could be done in various stages of construction. Maintenance could be more efficient and predictable. Add to this the rising labor costs for specialist in AV and IoT as our buildings’ systems become more advanced and workers have to be more skilled.

Today there are companies that specialize in this type of 3D modeling. Sunnyvale, California-based Matterport has camera technology that can model rooms in less than one minute with over 99% accuracy. The cameras can capture 2D photography and 3D data from job sites, and automatically stitch them into a complete, immersive 3D model that can be shared, and exported to programs like Autodesk or Revit. Smartly, they partner with developers too because they know that the future holds applications for this tech that haven’t even been dreamed up yet. Using Matterport’s 3D scanning for BIM, building owners can be provided with superior documentation throughout the construction process, and useful files for long-term facilities management.

A newer entrant to the industry is VirtualApt, a New York City-based startup that has recently built a video-camera equipped robot that roams through apartments and commercial spaces generating 360° VR videos. The company claims that in about 30 seconds, their robot can scan up to 2,500 square feet. Coupled with a broker’s voiceover, one can see how these videos could make for slick marketing presentations, especially for foreign buyers or tenants.

While it may be too late to be able to virtually walk through my house mid construction, the buildings of tomorrow are being built today and the more that they can be future-proofed with technologies like virtual reality, the more lucrative and sustainable they will be over their lifespan.

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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