I’m a technology geek. Not in the sense of coding or building apps, but I’m obsessed with understanding where the world is going technologically and read about it often (while my friends make fun of me.)
After listening to him speak on Tim Ferris’ podcast via the Overcast app on my phone, I bought Kevin Kelly’s book, “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.” Mark Andreesen, co-founder at Andreesen Horowitz and someone I deeply respect, called it “an automatic must read.” That was enough for me.
One of the themes in Kevin’s book and something futurists believe is about to go mainstream is virtual reality. By definition, virtual reality is an “artificial environment created through software that can be interacted with in a real or physical way.” To do so, a user must wear specific electronic equipment (me in the cover photo) and at once, you are placed into another location entirely.
That is what happened when I visited Floored’s Chelsea office to get a taste of the future. Around 6:30PM on a Wednesday in early August, I met Eric Roseman, West Coast Account Executive at Floored. After a quick tour of the office, we walked into a small room in the back corner of their space. The room, with wood floors and white walls, is no more than a few hundred square feet. Eric helped me put on the headset hanging from the middle of the ceiling and then I was off – not physically, of course, but virtually – immersed inside 375 Pearl Street downtown, the Verizon building, undergoing a major renovation. It was awesome. Despite knowing I was in an office-sized room at Floored’s HQ, with the mask on I felt like I was really inside the space. I walked around. I looked up and saw the ceiling of 375 Pearl. I looked behind me and saw the rest of the floor, built out with offices, conference room and some furniture. Using a hand trigger, I could “teleport” within the space from one side of the office to another. I walked to the edge of the space to see the actual views from the floor taken from Google images. Little pop up icons allowed me to click on them and access all sorts of building specific information.
The technology wasn’t perfect (e.g. sometimes I found myself in the middle of a table or outside of the exterior windows,) but it was pretty damn good and has the potential to be great. Another thing missing from this particular experience was the ability for Eric to be in the space with me (that may be because there was only one set of goggles.) VR is about the experience; powerful alone, it can be truly extraordinary shared. That is our future.
Based on the people I follow in the VR space, we are still 5-10 years away before the technology is ubiquitous. VR’s most immediate use will likely be in gaming and entertainment, but it will also become integral in other industries such as health care and real estate.
A future where virtual reality tours are the norm. Clients and brokers always start with a VR tour because it’s more efficient than a walking tour and helps narrow down a short list. There’s a room at CBRE’s office (and all other commercial brokerage firms) dedicated to VR. It’s the most popular room within the office and booked almost every hour. We reserve a time and you (the client) come join me (the broker) on a VR tour. Like a walking tour we’re in the space together, sharing the experience. Touch technology has increased so we can walk around the space and physically open doors to offices, sit down on chairs, etc. Rather than a “tour book,” we click a button on our hand triggers to pull up the space information (rent, owner, floor plate size, other building tenants, etc.) Since VR has become so prevalent and inexpensive compared with the benefits, nearly all landlords in Manhattan hire Floored or another company to build the technology for them. Landlords still want to know when a client is virtually touring their space, so the only way we can tour is by first setting the tour up with the landlord’s agent. From their office, he/she sets up the VR tour and we are all in the space together. The goggles also have a microphone so we can all talk to each other in the space – the landlord’s agent, me and you. We’re able to see 15 spaces and determine a short list in one hour. Before VR, there was no such thing as a 15 building tour. VR enables more opportunities to be toured and analyzed.
On the short list tour, we physically go see 5 buildings. Virtual reality is great but still does not replace the need to see the space/building in the “real” world. When we arrive at the building and are taken up to the floor, which is raw, we’re given a set of glasses from the landlord’s agent. On that tour, using technology developed by Floored or others, we’re able to employ augmented reality to walk a raw floor but have it be overlayed with desks, people, and finishes depending on our preferences. You work at a hedge fund, so we choose to see the space built out with trading desks and Blomberg screens. However on the previous tour, a law firm chose to have the augmented reality show the floor filled with perimeter offices. In my current role advising landlords, whenever I am showing raw space, I always try to show a recently built out floor to the tenant first so they can get an idea of how a raw floor can be designed. With augmented reality we do exactly that, but it’s better because this is the actual floor we’d lease, built out the way we’d run our business.
I applaud Floored for being a pioneer in the space. It remains to be seen if they become the leader in VR for real estate, but they sure have a great start.
How do you think VR will affect your industry? Friends at VC firms – are you investing money into this space, or seeing new companies come pitch different applications to VR? Let me know in the comments section of this post. Would be interesting to share ideas and knowledge.
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