Pi Labs Insights
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Pi Labs Insights

How the metaverse is already changing the built environment

Image credit: Dent Reality

In late October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Meta would be the new name for the US tech giant. It gives a less-than-subtle nod to the metaverse­, which Zuckerberg identified as the future of the organisation and tech-enabled social networking more broadly. At the same time, Google Trends saw a surge of online interest in the topic (see below chart). The metaverse is a familiar concept to the Pi Labs investment team and wider PropTech ecosystem. Generally, the metaverse is broken into two key concepts: augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Today, we’ll focus more on AR.

N.B. a score of 100 is peak search activity for the topic.¹

AR’s bumpy rise to prominence

If we take another quick look at Google Trends, we can see a surge of interest in the topic of augmented reality in July of 2016. In the months that followed, major publications discussed the topic and its development since the 1960s. This flurry of activity was caused by the launch and widespread adoption of Pokémon Go, which had reached nearly 45 million users in a month. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Stories emerged of immersed players being hit by cars, fanatical droves of players blocking traffic to pursue rare Pokémon, as well as the short-term novelty wearing off for many players.

AR, VR, and real estate…

When it comes to definitions, augmented reality ‘enhances the physical environment you see by overlaying virtual elements’.² Enhancing the physical environment is what distinguishes AR from virtual reality — which is its own environment. By putting this comparison into the context of real estate, a VR use case would be using a headset to tour an unbuilt (virtual) home, office, or other structure. An AR use case, on the other hand, would be viewing how different furniture (overlaying virtual element) would look in an existing room (physical environment).

This collaboration between Built-ID and the City of London highlights one of many use cases for AR in real estate: building information

The metaverse has too many other use cases in real estate and the built environment to list. However, I created a shortlist of three areas where the metaverse already is (or soon will be) transforming real estate in significant ways.

1: Inspecting and configuring spaces

When most people think of real estate and the metaverse, they think of virtual viewings. Putting on a headset or holding your smartphone camera over a site plan can enable you to both view and customise the space. Examples include interactive visits (the Google Street View of real estate); 3D representations of off-the-plan buildings; property staging (turning an empty space into a not-so-empty space); measuring functions to aid occupants in installing fittings and fixtures; as well as identifying and managing defects. It’s important to note that some of these use cases require more advanced technological prowess than others.

The IKEA Place app (announced in 2017) is an example of property staging — enabling users to visualise a space with their own configuration (image source: SPACE10)

2: Construction management

Construction is often considered an industry slow to adopt technology, but it is also one of the most dynamic industries. Start-ups and VCs have been working to resolve this technology gap in recent years. This has led to 2021 becoming a record year for ConTech (construction technology) investment. The likes of XYZ Reality, Buildots and Contilio are at the forefront of construction-metaverse integration. By incorporating computer vision and artificial intelligence, their products are able to identify existing or potential deviations between design and build — saving on costs, time, and material waste. This is achieved by construction managers and other workers walking through the site with hardware (camera, smartphone, or other device) which is able to overlay plans and compare with what is being (or has been) delivered.

Contilio promotional video

3: Labour efficiency and precision

‘Call the guy’ is a phrase familiar to American sitcoms when a character needs handy work done in their home or workplace. Maintenance technicians and contractors have a wide variety of skilled and lower-skilled tasks to complete such as boiler maintenance and testing, appliance faultfinding, installation, assembly, and so on. If the occupant is unable to describe the problem or a part is faulty, the technician will likely need to return. This process is clunky, often resulting in technicians spending excess time in traffic; hauling up to a tonne of equipment through neighbourhood streets; and working on mundane, lower-skilled tasks. On this issue, augmented reality also has an answer.

  • Remote maintenance: how much wasted time in traffic could be prevented if technicians were able to remotely guide occupants through lower-skilled tasks?
  • Delegating: how many lower-skilled tasks could be avoided by technicians altogether if AR gave occupants machine-level precision in basic tasks such as hanging pictures, installing curtains, and bleeding boilers?
  • Upskilled technicians: how could technicians be further upskilled by integrating AR and VR in their training — enabling them to experience guided instruction on complex tasks such as engine rebuilds, fault finding, onsite welding, electrical installations, and others?
AR applied to technical training

Hardware: enabling the metaverse

The key enabler of augmented reality is the accompanying hardware. That’s why hardware has been a key focus of revolutionary entrepreneurs — from your phone, to glasses, to contact lenses and even implants. We could return to the Pokémon Go example here, which would’ve been impossible without the proliferation of smartphones. Another example is a recently announced Pi Labs portfolio company, Dent Reality. Dent Reality deploys augmented reality via smartphones to facilitate user interface and navigation — a notoriously challenging use case to solve due to the unavailability of GPS, as well as the unreliability of indoor location technologies. This has caught the attention of big names such as M&S, who have deployed Dent Reality for wayfinding and user interface in supermarkets.

Wayfinding and user interface are just two of the multiple applications offered by Dent Reality, but they’re both very exciting. Some may identify with getting lost in supermarkets more than others, but supermarkets are just the beginning. Have you ever had trouble finding a meal or your gate at an airport? How about an office or lecture theatre at university? Then you have museums, amusement parks, world heritage sites, warehouses, and so on. For these applications, the user is not only able to navigate a venue with more confidence, but the venue is also able to communicate with the user — recommending products, solving pain points, or even enhancing physical experiences.

¹ To understand how Google Trends indexes search activity, check out the following resource: Simon Rogers. (2016). ‘What is Google Trends data — and what does it mean?’. Google News Lab.

² Ana Javornik. (2016). ‘What Marketers Need to Understand About Augmented Reality’. HBR. (Bold added for effect).

For more updates from the team and for a look into life at Pi Labs, follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

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Technology is breaking new ground in the real estate sector — and we’re at the forefront. We’re a global Venture Capital organisation investing in the ideas that are shaping the future of our built world, from where we live and work to how we travel.

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Daniel Salzner

Daniel Salzner

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