“Is it good yet?” That’s the question Tom Kelshaw asks of every new technology that bursts onto the scene. As Global Director of Innovation for Maxus, it’s Kelshaw’s job to spot emerging technology and assess its potential for brands and marketers.
“The reality is that most first and second generation technologies are just not good yet, which is fine. You just have to keep in mind that an exciting movie trailer doesn’t guarantee a great movie.”
Are we letting the hype go to our heads? David Gerrelli of CBRE has about half a billion reasons to stay excited. “We did some calculations and worked out that in commercial real estate, AR and VR combined is expected to be worth about 500 million dollars by 2020. The big question is: what are people going to use the technology for? As an industry, we’re still in the early stages of working that out.”
Is VR still kid’s stuff, or is it about to go prime-time for property? Image: Scharp
Some early pioneers are ready to crown these visualisation technologies as the new gold standard in property marketing. “It’s a little bit controversial, our view nowadays is with the right technology, the right 3D modelling, there is no need to build physical scale models anymore,” says Justin Bourn of Perth-based firm Blank Canvas.
“If you look at the money running through your visual assets and rendering there’s a case for working those assets much harder than just a static image. An obvious way to do that is by scrapping the scale models which can free up north of $100,000. That can go a long way now in the virtual world.”
Several of our expert panellists are already thinking much bigger than just the sales end of the property game. “Our primary focus is moving the industry away from simply thinking of these visualisation technologies as a sales and marketing tool,” says Luke Brannelly of the Gold Coast’s V2i.
“Our role is to help them realise how gaming and other immersive smart technologies can enable significant business and process improvement and reshape the entire planning, development, approval and stakeholder engagement process, right from day one in the project lifecycle. We are part of potentially the most significant change the industry has seen for a long, long time.”
VR – next big thing or fast fad?
“If you want to understand new technology it’s important to be able to see where it is in relation to the real world,” says Will Harvey, Innovation Lead for VCCP in London. “Gartner’s Technology Hype Cycle is a good place to start when we’re assessing what a new technology might actually mean and how we can integrate it into the [communications] that we are offering our clients.”
Gartner’s methodology has become an industry standard for judging the impact of tech on industry. Image: GartnerHis take on VR? “Over the last two years we’ve seen more and more examples of brands and companies and organisations using VR in different ways. I think it has its commercial uses and has creative uses in the right place, but I don’t think it’s really got the large scale reach that you would normally get through other [communication] channels.”
Kelshaw also looks back to get a sense of what the future may look like. “VR now is where videos on the internet were maybe 10 or 12 years ago. I mean you could do it, it just wasn’t very good yet. Now it’s fine, it’s how we consume quite a lot of video. VR is undoubtedly a next big thing, it’s just not the big thing yet. The friction is high right now, the payoff is low. The experience of putting on all that kit just to be in a computer game room, it’s not really fantastic.”
Even VR’s supporters are staying realistic. “I am a big fan, I am one of the biggest fans in our office, it’s got a long way to go but I think it will go places,” explains Johnny Wilkinson, Director of Scharp, a Melbourne-based architectural visualisation firm.
“What’s holding us back in particular is the actual software to create it. In the 3D visualisation world, we use 3DS Max as standard, but currently the software required to produce fully hands-on virtual reality is gaming software, meaning our artists have to learn a whole new set of skills.”
The key, according to Harvey, is to find the right use-case. “I think the use of VR to be able to immerse someone and create emotional trigger is quite a powerful tool, but it’s not right for every kind of message that you are trying to get across. I think you have to be selective in a way, think about what you are trying to achieve rather than just doing tech for tech’s sake.”
The problem at the moment with VR is that the user experience can be very selfish, very ‘single person’, a little bit awkward, people still get sick on it,” concedes Bourn. “However, there will be a lot of benefits as people become more used to VR. People across the globe will be able to experience property without having to travel and I think it will be inevitable that it will become more accepted.”
Just as 2D images have limitations, so too does the next wave of visualisation tech. Image: Blank Canvas“I was a detractor of VR until fairly recently, but I’ve seen it mature rapidly and the proof is in how it can help transactions,” explains Gerrelli. In his role as the lead for 3D Visualisation Technologies for CBRE in APAC, he’s been in the trenches of visualisation technology.
“I think VR and AR is perfectly situated for real estate because it is a classic use-case. I want to know how it feels in that space, how tall are the ceilings, how would I visualise my fit out and so on. And that I think is what will drive VR and AR to be a success. It is still largely unexplored and there are still many companies, especially the big players, that haven’t really entered into that market.”
“What I am trying to do is not to label a particular element as the next big thing, whether it is VR, web or AR,” explains Brannelly.
“It is what we as humans can do with these smart technologies to enable better outcomes that I see as the next ‘big thing’. There is a generation of young, internationally connected, motivated Millennials who were born into technology that will change so many of our current industries, forever.”
While our panel all believe VR’s time is coming, they have different reasons for its delayed arrival. “There are a few elements holding it back,” explains Bourn. “The files for full virtual reality are really quite heavy, so you need good infrastructure & hardware. Australian internet speeds are also a big issue.”
“Something like Oculus Rift requires a high-end desk-bound PC and a physical cable going to a headset. The computer is not just your average day-to-day desktop computer either,” adds Wilkinson. “That’s a big hardware investment, it sometimes doesn’t stack up for an average residential development, so many people default to phone-based headsets, similar to the Samsung kit.”
Phone-based VR kits trade mobility and affordability for a lower screen resolution. Image: Shutterstock
From his office in New York, Kelshaw thinks the problem might be outside the realm of hardware. “I think the industry, particularly real estate, could do itself a favour by not trying to recreate reality in virtual reality. If I’m walking through an environment and it looks a bit like a video game, there’s that ‘uncanny valley’ effect. It’s not quite right. So your body rejects it automatically. We’ve had more success in retail when we let customers explore a cartoon world, or a sketched world, or a watercolour world, rather than trying to re-create reality and not quite getting there.”
Wilkinson suggests that some of the blockage might come from industry players who simply like things the way they are. “I think a lot of push back is not just necessarily with the technology in general; if you have people who still love the old school way with the printed-out plans and the brochures, they might make similar assumptions on behalf of the end clients and then the tech gets put in the drawer.”
Don’t despair, enthuses Brannelly – the future is coming faster than you think. “Three years ago, when we first started to pilot V2i Realtime across the country, we would take two computers with $1000 graphics cards and our own screen, all in a custom road case. It cost $3,500 in freight to go to Melbourne and back each time. Today we can run the same fully immersive environments on commercially available laptops. The price continues to drop every six months.”
Is AR back for good this time?
Not according to Scharp’s Wilkinson. “It will take a lot in the next couple of years to convince me it’s going to go anywhere. I did go into it with an open mind, we looked at it several years ago and I also saw how everyone was seduced by Pokemon Go. My kids were loving it but for visualising a multi-storey storey apartment sitting on my desk in front of me - it didn’t wow me to be honest.”
“After Pokemon Go, we saw AR appear in every marketer’s ‘trend deck’ as technology to watch again because it took a piece of technology and it paired it up with a piece of content that really resonated with the younger demographic,” explains VCCP’s Harvey.
“The other reason why it’s making a bit of a comeback is because we have seen the likes of Google do stuff with project Tango and Microsoft with HoloLens. And with Apple announcing AR kits about a month ago at the Apple conference, I think that we are going to see a real floodgate of augmented reality experiences hitting the market.”
Pokemon Go got the world to sit up and pay attention to AR again. But for how long? Image: Shutterstock“AR is getting a lot better. It’s certainly next generation compared to where it was. The new kit that’s out, whether it’ll be Google Tango, the new iPhone 8 or new Samsung phones, will have really good AR capabilities, you won’t need to download an app,” predicts Maxus’ Kelshaw.
“We’ve had trailblazers get some cut through. People reference Pokemon Go for kids, but there’s also Snapchat for pretty much anyone under the age of 30. We’re going to start seeing more AR uses work really well.”
Some of our panellists also see potential in AR, but not necessarily as a standalone tech. “We are now starting to re-look at the AR particularly as devices become more powerful and have the ability to interface and connect with VR and indeed other experiences,” explains V2i’s Brannelly.
“Once again, it is the ability for these technologies to talk together and to create the next generation of tailored personal and relevant experiences to improve the outcome in a more effective and efficient manner, which for us is the key.”
It’s a prediction echoed by Harvey in London. “The potential of ‘mixed reality’ is very interesting. A designer could be sitting in a studio in Sydney and wearing a VR headset and a client could actually be onsite wearing a Microsoft HoloLens and the two of them would collaborate together in a physical environment to design what it would look like for a retail shopfront or apartment. Being able to bridge those different worlds and being able to transport someone to a location, but also then to put digital information in that physical location has potential.”
“I think for us it’s more of a wait and see for AR,” cautions Bourn. “Using a combination of AR and VR you could maybe stand on the spot and your phone would show you what the finished products would look like so you kind of get this sense of reality vs virtual. We see more of a combination of the technologies happening for us.”
A common theme from our panellists was to look beyond the property industry to see how other fields are using the technology. “The stuff Lego has been doing over the last few years is really exciting. They’ve had to reinvigorate that plastic brick, and they’ve turned it into an AR marker that you can bring to life with characters that can only exist in digital form,” says Kelshaw.
“When you get the combination of those two it becomes a kind of ‘mixed reality’, which is where Meta or HoloLens are going. But again, neither of those are great experiences just yet.”
“Fitbits followed the exact predictable path of the Gartner-Hype-Cycle,” explains Kelshaw. “We are in the trough of disillusionment, where ‘this will change everything’ gets revealed to be ‘this is not changing much at all.’ However, what we do have now is a massive stockpile of data that I think businesses can start to turn into value, and that will lead to re-hyping wearables.”
Wearables are sitting at a low point on the Gartner Hype Cycle - the data they collect is the real product. Image: Shutterstock
Harvey points to a similar cycle for those other wearable ‘game changers’ – Google Glass. “We saw the boom, the hype and everyone thought this was going to be the future of heads-up display technology, where it doesn’t require a user to be on a mobile device or a screen. I think the technology was over-promising and under-delivering, but also someone had to put a stake in the ground. Google Glass is still going as a product, they are looking at it at more of an enterprise kind of level, very much like the HoloLens. More recently we have seen a resurgence of capture-based technology in glasses like the SnapChat spectacles. The wearables evolution is still going, just in different forms.”
Sometimes the latest tech is the one we’ve had all along. “Robin is an interesting company, in that they use the wearable that every one of us have - our smartphone – but combined with sensors inside an office environment, to tell you where your next meeting is, or where you can find a spare room or desk,” explains Kelshaw.
“As we move to workplaces that are a combination of humans and robots, wearables in that space are going to be pretty interesting, especially in construction and heavy industry. I think wearables will just be a natural part of how you do your job, you slap on some type of augmenting technology.”
“What happened in London recently is an indication of why it’s important to use technology to safeguard people from dangers. The Internet Of Things (IOT) will be critical in overcoming things like the expense of putting in a fire detection system, for example,” say Gerrelli. “IOT allows more wireless remote control and I think there will be a bigger focus on safety - connecting your home to your everyday device and, in the future, probably AR wearables as well.”
“The smart home space has been brewing for quite a while and we are seeing the likes of Google and Amazon obviously making a huge play in this space right now,” observes Harvey. “They kicked it off two years ago with the Echo, bringing a smart system into a physical environment. We have Apple bringing their own version out, so the potential for property and physical technology to combine as a digital assistant is fascinating.”
There’s also a sense of frustration about the pace of change amongst some of our panellists. “I have universal remotes that can control heaps of stuff but the tech isn’t here yet for it to control. I had dimmer switches in the 70s when I was a kid and yet all I can really do now is dim the lights up and down or install a smart thermostat,” says Wilkinson. “Yes it won’t be long before everything is controlled by voice like in sci-fi movies, but it’s not going anywhere near fast enough for my liking.”
Many of our experts point to voice as the consumer tech most likely to impact residential development. Image: ShutterstockAs users, Kelshaw believes only the early adopters want to get their hands dirty.
“We’re waiting for us not to have to be network engineers of our own home. The Alexa and Echo voice control phenomenon has been really interesting because it just works, it’s pretty good when you bring it out of the box, it does things that you want – you just have to shout ‘hey Alexa, buy me some more whatever’ or ‘turn on this music, turn on these lights, set a reminder’. That stuff I think is probably not quite the killer app, but at least it’s still a platform for a smart home you don’t have to configure for yourself.”
It’s this configuration that Gerrelli believes is the stumbling block at the moment. “To some degree, you could probably retro-fit a lot of properties with this tech, but the problem is really the collaboration between different agencies - you need your energy guys to work with property and you need the strata guys to work with this and with that.”
Still, our panellists see voice in the home having major impact on how property operates.
“The part that I’m keeping an eye on is what does that mean for my grandma? You have a rapidly ageing population in Australia, in East Asia it’s even more pronounced. The future might be somewhere between the robots that Japan is building to look after their old people and the on-demand economy that Amazon will supply to the home. I don’t need to teach my grandma how to use an Amazon Echo, she knows how to scream a command across the lounge room because she’s been doing it for 85 years.”
Harvey is quick to point out that it’s the hidden smarts behind this ‘smart tech’ making all the difference.
“The aggregated learning of having all of our devices talking to one another means the tech has learned how humans are interacting. The word error rate of a machine listening to a human was about 17% in 2015. In 2017, it’s down to about 3%. There has been more progress in the last 30 months than we have seen in the last 30 years. Machines are now understanding human vocals better than actual human interaction. That’s all because of aggregated learning.”
Techs in the City
“Getting property-related tech implemented at the city scale seems to be a slower process, largely because of the realities of existing mechanisms and processes in governments, major corporations and academia,” offers Brannelly, who draws on his Urban Planning background in his visualisation work.
“Like any change, it generally takes more time for these larger organisations to have the confidence and processes in place to adapt and change, as opposed to the more nimble industries or companies which are able to embrace change at a faster rate. The positive thing is that it is happening - you just have to look at the industry interest that has been generated by initiatives like the Federal Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs program.”
Density and leadership are needed to deliver the real benefits of city-level tech. Image: Shutterstock“Dense cities with tall buildings should be thinking about better internet connectivity, especially as we head towards autonomous vehicles and robots,” warns Kelshaw.
“I know some of these vehicles are relying on cell phone coverage here in Manhattan, so there needs to be a pretty good mesh. The population density enables the wet-end of technology to work, the delivery, the last mile stuff, the on-demand scooter guys. Whether that be Uber Eats or Rappi or DoorDash or whatever, you don’t see these things working in rural or remote, or even just spread out ex-urban areas. Population beats tech every time.”
The recent rise of the power of big-city Mayors (see the revolt against Trump’s federal-level abandonment of the Paris Climate accord) underlines another city-level trend that tech is accelerating.
“Edward Glaeser’s ‘Triumph of the City’ explains the city as the perfect combination of capitalism and geography. From a marketing perspective, it’s like a brand that you can vote for and buy,” says Kelshaw. “It’s not unthinkable to move cities if you don’t like the city you’re in. Cities that are investing in the future will get business and they get citizenry that are voting for and buying in that city: San Francisco Bay Area, Austin, Singapore. They’re letting companies run their tech experiments on them, which is also attracting people who want to live there.”
“As much as I’m a technology guy, I 100% believe that talent is what makes a good business. The people, it’s always about the people and especially in modelling and visualisation because it’s a creative skill,” says CBRE’s Gerrelli. “Quality varies greatly, not just from company to company unless they’ve got good talent, but even from person to person.”
Many of our panel believe that today’s experiments in VR will become the norm for entry-level property marketing. Image: Scharp“I’ve been talking about creating an experience that gamifies the property purchase cycle,” imagines Bourn.
“You want to keep someone having fun and that also brings socialness to it, it makes the experience less of a one-person experience. It’s just human nature to get a little bit more competitive and then they start playing more together, you get more interaction. We’re not really crossing that type of thought over to property marketing yet. It’s going to be something that we really have to think about.”
A note of caution about the future became a common refrain from our panel of global experts. “I would encourage people to make mistakes, to learn from them,” advise Gerrelli. “I hate to admit it, you know, but I have learned from those mistakes myself. So I would say don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but try to keep the price of them down.”
“There is sometimes less risk in taking a wait and see attitude,” cautions Brannelly. “I’d be wary of rushing into new technology for a commercial application without piloting, testing and understanding how it will address the problem at hand, and then improving the outcomes first.”
Another popular piece of advice: look at it from the user’s perspective first. “Perhaps the simplest way is to just start browsing in the comfort of VR at home, being able to see what’s going on around you,” suggests Harvey. “Regardless, I think you have really got to be quite strategic on the uses and ask ourselves why are we doing this? Is it actually a benefit for the end user?”
“Tech is great, but we might be starting to rely on it too heavily,” warns Kelshaw. “I shouldn’t have to get Amazon to deliver my Whole Foods. There’s a lot of space in the building, it’s not used well, there are entire rooftops where hyper-localised agriculture or at least some type of biodiversity play is possible. It’s time to be thinking about how you might use the building and technology to create, not just to live.”
Thanks to our global panel of Unearthed experts for this episode:
is a Director of Scharp and has been an integral part of helping the studio grow and develop since he joined in 2004. Johnny has led the 3D visualisation team to deliver some of Australia's largest and most prestigious 3D projects over the years. With a degree in Interior Architecture from the UK, Johnny worked as an interior designer in London before making the move to Melbourne and joining Scharp. scharp.com.au
, Global Director of Innovation, Maxus, Tom leads the global innovation consulting practice within Maxus, with a focus on North America. As Director of Innovation, he delivers Maxus’ ‘Leading Change’ promise through innovation & partnership projects. maxusglobal.com/
Justin Bourn is Founder and Director of Blank Canvas Studios, a CGI content agency based out of Perth operating Australia-wide, providing the architectural and property sectors with high quality CGI stories to share with buyers, stakeholders and decision makers. blankcanvas.studio
Will Harvey is innovation lead for VCCP in London. This year he joined the IPA’s Brand Technology board and became a Director of 'Innovation Social' group. He delivered VCCP’s first VR project and has responsibility for supercharging VCCP's thought leadership ‘Curious’ programme, deep diving into topics such as ‘The Future of Video’ and ‘Media Meets Message’ for the International VCCP partnership. Will continues to stay ahead of all new and emerging tech and has forged personal relationships deep and wide across the ad industry and tech city with like-minded innovators and start-ups. He was a finalist in The Hospital Club's Top 100. vccp.com/
David Gerrelli is the lead for 3D Visualisation Technologies for CBRE in APAC and is focused on rapidly advancing CBRE’s capability in this region. He is also the APAC Principle Lead for Floored, which was acquired by CBRE in January 2017 and is an established leader of SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions, including scalable, interactive 3D graphics technology for the global commercial real estate industry. David has over 20 years’ experience in Enterprise Business Technologies working for FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 companies covering Europe, the Americas, and Asia Pacific. www.cbre.com.au
Luke Brannelly is the Founder and Managing Director of the V2i Group specialising in immersive user engagement technologies, customised software solutions, and visually based digital strategies, which enable improved business efficiencies and return on investment. His focus is on a range of industries including property, mining, health, education and online learning and training. v2igroup.com
Coming up: The ‘How To’ guide for the future of tech in property marketing
If you’ve enjoyed hearing from our experts, stay tuned at the end of the month when we release our downloadable ‘How To’ guide for AR, VR and beyond. Available as a downloadable PDF, this Unearthed ‘How To’ guide will walk you through the timelines, budgets, strategies, collaborators and ideas you should be considering if you’re looking to make innovation a big part of your next property marketing project.
is the Director of Strategy at Wordsearch Australia, part of the world's leading specialist property marketing consultancy network. He helps architects, developers, agents and city leaders develop stories for the built environment.
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The Urban Developer
is Australia’s largest and fastest-growing online community for development professionals. Their daily updates are read across the industry and their live events and panel discussions are highly sought-after. The Unearthed Series is the first of an expanding range of resources for development professionals, published by The Urban Developer and developed in collaboration with the world’s most experienced property professionals.
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What technologies should I use? How do I find the right team? When should I brief my designer? How much budget should I allocate? We’ve covered the globe talking to experts from developers to branding consultants, architects to sales agents, and technologists to designers, bringing you the latest thinking and tested wisdom from the world’s best property marketers.
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