[Editor’s note: Originally published on Proptech Consulting.]
The past few years have been a case study in finding creative solutions for unpredictable situations. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted global market conditions for every industry segment. Because of the fundamental need for shelter, employment, manufacturing and storage, the real estate industry has been at the forefront of these changes. The limitations of the pandemic have forced the key players to adapt and rethink their strategy to survive, and hopefully flourish.
As an example, a key advancement is the acceleration and implementation of 3D technology for the commercial and residential real-estate sectors. In digital spaces, having access to 3D information enhances decision-making by simulating a panoramic, high-resolution walkthrough and allowing for interactivity.
Until recently, the real estate industry was reliant on specialized 3D capture equipment to create interactive maps and develop engaging digital experiences. This was primarily due to the specialized nature of this technology and the skillset required to capture 3D information. Advancements in 3D capture technology are rapidly changing the landscape with accessible 3D capture options.
Mobile 3D Scanning
3D Scanning has emerged as a transformative force in the real-estate sector with the growth of detection sensors on smartphones. A key step in this growth has been the introduction of the LiDAR sensors in Apple devices. Operating at nano-second speeds, LiDAR is a pulsed laser that generates a 3D model with greater accuracy than just a simple camera. Now a standard feature in iPhone Pro and iPad devices, the inclusion of the sensor paves the way for improved 3D capture for users.
Before exploring the possibilities offered by smartphone 3D capture tools, let’s evaluate the existing 3D scanning tools available on the market.
High-Precision LiDAR Scanner Equipment
High-Precision LiDAR scanner equipment is conventionally used for accurate 3D scanning for commercial purposes. This category of capture equipment is considered ‘high-end’ due to the cost associated with the capture process. Typically, these devices produce a point cloud, and some also capture 360 photos. The use-case for these devices is focused on precision.
Specialized Proprietary Solutions (Mid-Range)
This segment includes proprietary solutions developed by third party companies to capture spaces and objects with 3D data. Matterport is the industry leader in scanning floor plans and creating virtual tours for users.
Photogrammetry / Structure-From-Motion
This 3D capture pipeline involves processing many photos and videos into 3D geometries, based upon a three-dimensional coordinate measuring technique. These photos can be captured from UAV’s/drones or robots and are then post-processed on a desktop. Though anyone can perform basic captures, achieving the best results at scale requires specialized expertise and techniques such as Ground Control Points (GCP).
360 Panoramas / Videos
The simplest way to capture 3D information is by using an app for an Android or iOS device or a stereoscopic 3D lens on a DSLR camera. This practice is currently being used in the industry, for everything from virtual tours to construction monitoring. Usually, the panoramas are attached to floor plans, but they do not have any 3D data themselves.
Mobile LiDAR / Depth Capture
Apple was one of the first smartphone manufacturers to use LiDAR on its devices, introducing it on the 2020 iPad Pro, and then fitting it on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max to enhance camera functionality and strengthen augmented reality (AR) applications. While it may not be as accurate as a High-Precision LiDAR device, its portability, cost, and ease-of-use make it ideal for many situations. Users can quickly capture spaces for reference, create floorplans, measure dimension and share 3D information.
A Quick Comparison of Technologies / Solutions:
Real Estate Workflow and Mobile LiDAR
In this section, we are going to discuss how Mobile Phone LiDAR impacts:
- Sales and Marketing
- Property Management
- Architecture & Design
- Facility Management & Maintenance
Industry Use Case
3D scan technology is being used to enhance data capture and implementation. Here’s how the process works:
- Capture & Process – Capturing 3D information and processing it into a 3D model.
- Display & Share/Publish – Rendering the 3D model on software or the web
- Interact & Maintain – Proving interaction (i.e., measure, assets, etc.) and maintaining the state of the 3D information in dynamic environments (i.e., construction sites, etc.)
Sales and Marketing
Prospective customers rely upon a comprehensive visual outlook of the property to help them make decisions. Photos, videos, and floor plans are critical elements of marketing commercial and residential real estate because they allow customers to have a realistic overview of the property. Virtual home tours allow customers to have a comprehensive visual reference of the property from all angles. These tours have become a standard component of digital experiences by companies including Zillow 3D Home® Tours, VPiX, Pivo Real Estate, etc. Now Mobile LiDAR makes capturing and sharing 3D information even easier. A user can scan a location, convert it to floor plans and attach photos and video to specific locations.
Architecture & Design
Architecture and design were one of the first industries to adopt 3D from 3D building plans and renderings. But now, 3D is integral in even more ways, such as Digital Twins and BIM (building information modeling). 3D mobile scans are being used to capture spaces and display concepts and options with Digital Twins in AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality).
In construction, 3D models and information are now a critical component of Surveys, BIMs, Plans, Estimating. Construction Management software (Procore, Buildertrend, AutoDesk PlanGrid, etc.) involves 3D assets, and some solutions are even more focused on image and 3D information processing (Cupix, OpenSpace, Prevu3D, etc.). In the construction industry, mobile 3D scanning works in conjunction with high-precision LiDAR and photogrammetry, where scans can be augmented to reference high-accuracy point clouds and be continually updated.
Property / Facility Management
Although it may have been underestimated in the past, 3D information is increasingly adopted for insurance, documentation move-in/move-outs, inventory, and resource asset purposes. The ability to create scans that can then have machine learning processes analyze conditions (i.e., damage, etc.) is streamlining existing workflows and paving the way to improved analysis.
The evolution of 3D scanning technology is opening doors to an enhanced personalized experience in the digital real-estate sector. The marriage of machine learning with improved data collection is simplifying data usage and offering a much more affordable alternative, due to enhanced data capture. The need for this data capture is supported by the challenging circumstances posed by the pandemic, that have paved the way toward online experience serving as the primary platform for customer engagement.
The improvements in detection sensors are leading the way for high-resolution, navigable scanning and 3D detection. For technology companies, this development is a step forward to the next generation home experience, centered around consumer data.
Even though technical standards may compromise the quality and accuracy of some consumer-generated 3D data, it still serves as an invaluable resource in estimation and evaluations across digital 3D experiences. With the developments in smartphone technology and accessible sensors, we can expect mobile scans to become the primary source of 3D data in the digital real-estate sector with consumer-based virtual experiences. Improvements in hardware are being further enhanced by advanced machine learning algorithms and will undoubtedly generate even more precise spatial analysis.