Stephanie Small spent months thinking about what kind of countertop to get for a new wine bar she will soon open with a partner in Somers, N.Y., part of Westchester County.
Besides mulling over the durability and price, Ms. Small thought long and hard about how the 16-foot bar would look, not just in the inside, but through the window from the outside. “I spent hours trying to visualize things and I just couldn’t,” she said.
Then a friend who worked for Cambria, a countertop manufacturer based in Eden Prairie, Minn., told her about the firm’s new augmented reality app, which lays digital images on top of the real world when people look through a smartphone lens.
After downloading the app onto her cellphone, she pointed the device to where the counter would be installed. An image of the bar appeared in its intended spot and she quickly realized that one of her most recent picks — a dark gray marble top — would look too much like the concrete floor. “It was remarkable to see it in the real space,” she said. “It changed my whole vision.”
Although the technology behind augmented reality has been around for years, the average consumer had little to do with it until last summer, when Apple released ARKit, a tool kit that allows developers to make augmented reality apps. Then Apple also made its latest operating system augmented reality compatible, suddenly allowing millions of people to use any augmented reality tool available through the app store.
Tim Merel, managing director of Digi-Capital, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based augmented and virtual reality adviser, predicted that by the end of 2018, there could be as many as 900 million smartphones and tablets capable of supporting augmented reality apps created from tool kits like Apple’s ARKit, Google’s ARCore and Facebook’s Camera Effects. And that number could grow to more than three billion by 2021.
At the moment, developers are creating simple tools. For example, MeasureKit is essentially a digital ruler, while PLNAR helps a user take dimensions of a room to create a floor plan. And Homesnap, a real estate search engine, has a “Walk the Property Lines” tool that shows the property lines around any home.
When you’re able to swap or move images at a push of a button, you can convey the “what-ifs instantaneously” to clients, making the decision-making process quicker, said Matthew Miller, the founder of StudioLAB, a Manhattan architectural and design firm.
With new technology, it’s all about the ease of use, said Brian Peters, chief marketing officer at Cambria. “I made sure both my 12-year-old daughter and my 41-year-old wife were able to use the app,” he said.
Augmented reality is also helpful for home-goods manufacturers who need to send out samples or swatches, Mr. Peters said. “We think our customers will be able to narrow their choices further on the app, before requesting a sample.”
Michael Schroeder, the director of virtual design and construction at SGA, an architectural and design firm with offices in New York and Boston, said that augmented reality could also help fill a major data gap for developers. For example, a tool could be created to show traffic patterns at a building site, or another could depict the texture of various building materials, which a developer could then quickly change on an iPad as while walking around a raw space.
“There’s a lot of data that architects and builders need to assess at the design phase and changes are made constantly,” he said. “If I’m able to stand at the site and see the shadow impact a building has on the surrounding area, it might alter the height of the building.”
To help builders and engineers, Daqri, a Los Angeles-based augmented reality firm, has been promoting its Smart Helmet, where augmented reality glasses are part of the construction helmet. The helmet allows the user to see data about machinery, including a generator’s rotation speed and when it was last inspected. It also has a thermal camera, which shows the temperature of pipes. Colleagues in a remote location can also see a repair as it happens and send instructions, if needed.
Clelia Warburg Peters, the president of Warburg Realty, thinks augmented reality has the possibility to become a key tool in the home-buying process. Virtual reality, which has been used by brokers to entice customers to buy homes in faraway cities, conveys what the builder wants to show. However, augmented reality puts the buyer in the actual space, which can take people from the, “‘what is’, to the ‘what it could be,’” she said.
“Buying a home can be very emotional. If you can change and personalize things, it can help with the decision-making process,” she added.
Pandora Reality, an augmented reality developer based in New York and Istanbul, builds augmented reality tools for brokers and developers who want to show the potential of an unfinished space. Alper Guler, Pandora’s head of operations in the United States, thinks real estate marketers could use technology to help keep their client’s attention.
“Home buying is a weekslong process. You can keep clients engaged with augmented reality much more than a link to a website,” he said.
One current drawback, experts said, is the lack of realism of the computer-generated image. They still look too fake, Mr. Miller said.
“I think augmented reality will find a large audience when people can’t tell the difference between the real thing and the computer-generated image,” he said. “But I’m sure that’s right around the corner, like all things tech.”
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