‘A Huge Multiplier’: Advanced Augmented Reality Comes To CRE

The latest iteration of augmented reality technology arrived in Apple stores earlier this month as the tech giant released its latest gadget: the Vision Pro, a pair of goggles that the company says blends the digital world and the physical space.

And as purveyors of physical space, some in the commercial real estate world are ready for what the present and future of AR could bring as the industry pushes toward a more modern way of doing business.

“I’m a big believer in the unification of digital and physical worlds,” NewMark Merrill CEO Sandy Sigal said. “The ability for people to say, ‘I don’t have to be away from my data, my friends, my information flow, and I can still walk around in the real world. And by the way, it’s going to enhance my engagement with the real world.’ That’s a huge multiplier.”

For example, applications of the technology in retail spaces are promising, Sigal said. AR devices could potentially function as conduits of information between the store and its patrons in real time.

“Imagine you walk into a store, and just within the store are highlighted things that you know will fit you, or are similar to styles that you like and are within your price point, highlighted so you don’t have to search,” Sigal said.

That kind of sorting and targeted shopping is common online, but with new technologies, could be deployed in physical stores.

Commercial real estate has been incorporating virtual reality into its marketing and touring functions for several years, an effort that was accelerated by the pandemic. Virtual tours and 3-D imagery increased as social distancing and stay-at-home orders made physical touring impossible. 

But as the technology progresses, its applications in commercial real estate grow. It could even reach the point where it facilitates more efficient design and becomes a potent sales tool for existing space, according to CRE execs.

“Even for us, as architects who were trained in space, stick a device on, we’re like wow, this is amazing,” said Baker Barrios Architects Chief Creative Officer Wayne Dunkelberger, whose practice spans commercial property types and who currently uses a number of VR systems in his design work, such as HTC and Oculus.

Orlando-based Baker Barrios has an empty site where clients put on VR glasses, import the design of the client’s development and walk around the space at scale to get a feel for it. 

Adjustments can be made to the design. This isn’t a new technology, Dunkelberger said, but it has vastly improved in recent years. And it’s possible Apple and others represent another improvement.

“During the design phase, we’re constantly rendering things to see how they’re going to look, to make sure that things are cohesive, that space feels right,” said CRG Vice President Louie Colella, whose company is an industrial and multifamily developer.

At a CRG student housing project in Madison, Wisconsin, Colella said the lobby was completely redesigned after viewing VR images. Rather than standard open conference rooms, the developer opted for a scattering of study pods. The pods better suited the flow through the lobby that the developer wanted.

“It’s part of the process, to be able to see the plans come to life so that you can make quick decisions before it gets really expensive to make big changes,” Colella said.

Better property-specific virtual worlds will also be increasingly used as sales tools, provided the tech is up to the task.

As part of the marketing campaign for a student housing tower it developed in Phoenix, CRG used drone images to create VR images of the view from each unit of the complex, which were visible with goggles.

“We’re trying to convince students in these markets to sign a lease a year in advance to actually seeing the end result,” Colella said. “So the views were going to be our big selling factor.”

Developers have taken to VR not only to sell the development to end users but also to local governments, according to DXD Capital principal Drew Dolan, whose company invests in and develops self-storage, with $132.6M in assets under management.

“I think that’s a game changer because everybody’s used to seeing the renderings and the elevation,” Dolan said. “Elevations are boring and renderings are only a little more exciting.”

A realistic virtual experience can, by contrast, show as much detail of the property as a visitor wants to see. It also shows how a self-storage property fits into its surroundings, something that is often a concern of community or neighborhood groups, Dolan said.

The new tech does come with downsides. Perhaps the biggest concerns are around privacy.

There are already known privacy risks, and as the technology evolves, so will the risks, according to cybersecurity specialist Kaspersky. Many of the issues are similar to those already found in the digital world, but more immersive tech has the potential to add additional risk.

For instance, hackers can embed malware into AR/VR systems or use them to steal information from wearable devices just as they might from other information platforms. Risks more specific to AR/VR systems include the malicious distortion of a virtual world, hijacking critical VR/AR data and holding it ransom or using sensitive information for blackmail.

Plus, like anything else in the tech world, there’s the chance that this new trend could go bust. 

Take Metaverse, an offering from social media company Meta that took the business world by storm two years ago with promises of imagined interaction in immense virtual worlds. But the buzz sputtered out, and in 2023 Business Insider wrote an epitaph for the concept, declaring that it was headed toward “tech industry’s graveyard of failed ideas.”

But for now, as this technology remains nascent, CRE pros see possibility.

“The glasses you’re wearing are already a data source for you,” Sigal said. “I don’t think that’s a big leap whatsoever. Human beings are very much hunter-gatherers and discoverers, right? This is just the logical next step.”

Read the original article here: https://www.bisnow.com/national/news/technology/i-dont-have-to-be-away-from-my-data-advanced-av-comes-to-cre-122902