Augmented and Virtual Reality: Transforming Commercial Real Estate

By Leah Grout Garris

When it comes to designing, marketing, leasing and maintaining commercial buildings, photos and 2D videos may soon be replaced by virtual and augmented reality. Virtual reality (VR) offers real-life, interactive experiences to anyone who has the right equipment. Augmented reality (AR) places computer-generated objects into existing real-world environments. Because of their benefits, both technologies are set to transform commercial real estate by helping sell prospective tenants, support occupants and reduce building system downtime.

Better Marketing

Cushman & Wakefield began its venture into VR by using it to market Park Tower, a 16-story high-rise office building in Costa Mesa, California.

“Using flat photography doesn’t capture the nature of the space, which is designed by [renowned architect] Helmut Jahn,” says Rob Lambert, executive director at Cushman & Wakefield. So the company partnered with virtual reality production company Prosper VR to create an immersive 3D video tour that highlights the lobby and available space. “You can play it on an iPad or iPhone—or using a virtual reality headset—and feel like you’re there.” A large portion of the building is now leased; Lambert believes the 3D video played a pivotal role in the marketing campaign.

Cushman & Wakefield also has used VR during construction and tenant build-outs to view 3D renderings and visualize what a space will look like once it’s complete.

Better Leasing and Inspections

Already using 3D technology for new project walkthroughs and marketing campaigns, Colliers International recently added VR to enhance the leasing experience. VR allows the company to show listings to potential tenants located anywhere in the world, even offering them customized Google Cardboard virtual reality viewing kits for their smartphones.

“This allows customers to virtually step inside our properties, which creates opportunities to drive conversations among our clients, potential customers and competitors,” says Sydney, Australia-based Belinda Scott, national director of Corporate Marketing and Communications at Colliers International. “We can reach out to potential tenants without them leaving their offices. This not only saves us time, but saves them time as well, leading to faster transactions and greater convenience.”

The best use for this technology, according to Scott? “The most value we get out of VR is the time saved during inspection periods,” she says.

Better Service

Manufacturers and vendors also are harnessing types of VR and AR to improve efficiency and provide better service. For example, mixed reality (MR), a blend of both virtual and augmented reality, helps thyssenkrupp get out-of-service elevators up and running as quickly as possible.

This technology, which first debuted in One World Trade Center in New York last fall, gives service technicians the ability to visualize and identify elevator problems. “Using Microsoft HoloLens MR headsets, thyssenkrupp technicians and support center staff can enter the same virtual environment—despite geographical separation—to visualize, hear and see the same things,” says Matt Watkins, executive vice president of Marketing at thyssenkrupp. This makes it faster and easier to communicate and troubleshoot. Field trials indicate that service maintenance is completed up to four times faster with HoloLens MR—which means less elevator downtime and happier tenants.

By combining the HoloLens with MAX, a cloud-based predictive maintenance service that uses big data from elevator sensors and systems, thyssenkrupp technicians also receive detailed data streams about specific elevators as they perform repairs.

The Reality of the Future

And these applications are just the beginning. “Virtual and augmented reality packed into powerful eyeglasses have a good chance of one day replacing the phones and laptops we know today,” says Jessie Kim, CEO and cofounder of Prosper VR. Property professionals who want to stay ahead of the curve should keep an ear to the ground—and an eye on the latest technological developments.

Important Pointers

Thinking about VR or AR for your building or company? Here are some hints from experts who use it:

  • Think about the experience you want to convey, and how you’ll deliver 3D content. Using YouTube or Facebook isn’t as powerful as using raw video in a virtual reality setting.
  • Expertise is required so the camera doesn’t shake and the operator isn’t in the shot. “Producing a 360-degree video typically involves taking an array of cameras, syncing their shutters and stitching the videos together in post,” explains Prosper VR’s Kim.
  • thyssenkrupp’s Watkins emphasizes keeping company culture in mind. Make sure employees understand how VR and AR will benefit them, their work and their customers.