Series 4 PropTech: Augmented & Virtual Reality Part 1 – with Dawn Lyle from iCreate

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Series 4 PropTech: Augmented & Virtual Reality Part 1 – with Dawn Lyle from iCreate

I am joined on the show today with Dawn Lyle, the founder of a visual communications and marketing company in the property sector called iCreate. We delve into the subject of augmented and virtual reality, sharing some of the use applications in this first part of our discussion. We start to understand just why augmented and virtual reality has become far more mainstream for us in the property sector than it has been previously.

Resources mentioned:

Find out more about Dawn Lyle’s company, iCreate at www.icreate.co.uk or connect with her directly: dawn@icreate.co.uk

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Transcription of the show

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Property Voice podcast. My name is Richard Brown and it’s a pleasure to have you join me on the show again today.

I am joined on the show today with Dawn Lyle, the founder of a visual communications and marketing company in the property sector called iCreate. We delve into the subject of augmented and virtual reality, sharing some of the use applications in this first part of our discussion.

Let’s have a listen now as we start to understand just why augmented and virtual reality has become far more mainstream for us in the property sector than it has been previously.

Property Chatter

Interview transcript with Dawn Lyle from iCreate

Richard: Hello Dawn, how are you?

Dawn. Hi Richard, thanks very much for having me on your podcast, I’m delighted to be here.

Richard: Yeah, me too. Thanks so much for joining me. I was looking at your website and, my mouth’s watering almost about some of the things we can talk about and, some of applications we can use. So we, we’ll get into that in a minute but I think what will be really helpful and what I normally do with guests on the show is just ask, if they wouldn’t mind giving a little bit of an introduction, background to themselves so that people listening understand where, where you know you fit in or are coming from. Would you mind doing that for me Dawn?

Dawn: Yeah! Great., thanks Richard. My name is Dawn Lyle and I run a property marketing technology company., I’ve got three little kids; a five year old and two three year olds. So, anyone who has young children and runs a business will have some idea of what that’s like., essentially, what I do is, help developers and house builders to visualise, what new developments will look like before they’re built. So, I in the computer graphics space, talking about virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D fly-throughs, interactive models and, computer generated imagery or CGIs. My experience over the last fourteen years has been working with house builders and developers and architects, who need to be able to present their vision for a new development or, a renovation or a, an extension before it’s built and in some ways the history of our business is kind of a a potted history of proptech in a way., we actually started out as a 3D computer animations studio producing all sorts of animated graphics and multimedia. but we quickly realised, there’s a huge opportunity to specialise in the field of ‘architectualisation’. You know back in those days, in 2003, if you were a developer and looking to present your upcoming schemes, if you used any graphics at all it’s likely that you would have commissioned an artist’s impression, so a watercolor artist would create a watercolor painting of what your new development might look like, so at that time, offering computer generated artist’s impressions in itself was very high tech at the time and, if you think how things have moved on from a world of static artist’s impressions to where we are today with the use of CGIs and 3D fly throughs which are you know, almost ubiquitous in the property development sector, it’s just been a massive leap forward into showing what proposed new developments will look like before they’re built. And,, over the last couple of years and to this very time, we are witnessing a huge leap forwards if you like in visual technology with the emergence of the reality and augmented reality and it’s interesting you know, what we’re seeing now is some developers and house builders starting to use these new technologies to transport people into the future and, well I think that brings us onto what we’re talking about today.

Richard: It does indeed. That was a nice segway really to talk about your own company’s development and this journey of proptech, being aligned, because I think there’s a couple of key points there, which is the advancement of technology, but also the way it’s actually used in reality. So perhaps if we could, Dawn, you talk, or we talk about some phrases and I guess for you, it’s second nature because you’re, in the heart of it. But, it would be really helpful if we could maybe understand, what actually is virtual reality and augmented reality?, could you help us get a picture of what they are?

Dawn: Yes.. Well virtual reality., takes two forms really. But primarily, it’s the use of a virtual reality headset and those have become more increasingly affordable and more accessible over the last few years. And, so you put on a virtual reality headset and effectively, that’s a pair of goggles that cuts out the real world that you’re sitting in and transports you into a virtual world. And the difference between looking at something on a screen, and seeing it through a virtual reality headset is that as you move your head around, to look from left to right or up and down, it’s as if you’re really there. So, you’re…in..a world which, in terms of the visual graphics is sort of a spherical image, or a spherical animation so you can look anywhere around that sphere if you sort of imagine you’re standing, standing in the middle of a ball and all around you are graphics of, a virtual world, and that can take two forms as I said. Either that is 3D computer animation that is computer graphics and that’s particularly where we are in visualising places that don’t exist. But that can also be spherical or three sixty degree photography, panoramic photography, of places that do already exist but you know, to my mind, virtual reality is just a marriage made in heaven with property and property development because that’s what it’s all about. Being able to be somewhere that we can’t physically visit. Whether that’s because it’s on the other side of the world or whether that’s because it doesn’t yet exist, it’s a marriage made in heaven in virtual reality technology, for our sector so, that’s quite exciting!, I can talk a bit about the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality. Augmented reality is a bit different because although it’s also a headset, you put on an augmented reality headset, augmented reality doesn’t remove you from the world you’re already sitting in. You can still see the other people in the room, you can still see the environment that you’re in but what it does is that it overlays onto the real world, something different, so augmented is referring to the fact that it links to the real world. So, there are all sorts of augmented reality games which are quite exciting so you know, you sort of look at your living room wall and suddenly there are aliens coming through the wall. (Laughs.)… it adds virtual reality into the real world. So it’s the kind of interplay between the virtual and the real, that’s augmented reality and that is, I would say that’s the sort of technology that’s still, in the stage of, it’s fun when using it for gaming and there are some sort of technical applications of augmented reality but it’s got a bit of catching up to do in terms of uptake and application where virtual reality I think, I think is finding its feet.

Richard: yeah. I mean maybe we’ll drift into that right now. That’s really helpful; thanks for the distinctions there between the two and to define them thanks Dawn. The augmented side of it, is it, does it exclusively rely on the headset? I think I’ve seen some, applications coming through now which don’t require a headset but they can superimpose virtual onto one that already exists.

Dawn: Yes, absolutely, augmented reality can also refer to applications that you can use for example through the camera on your phone. So you might be looking through your phone at a real world image and that might be standing on a building site, looking at an empty site and then overlaid onto that, as you look at it through the camera on your phone, you could see the building that’s proposed for that site overlaid onto it, and similarly, you can do that with printed literature, looking at a brochure or a piece of literature on your camera. The camera will sort of recognise the image that you’re looking at and overlay onto that information and graphics, to augment what you’re seeing so, yeah absolutely, augmented reality is perhaps more widely used in that way at the moment and the headset is very cutting edge.

Richard: Okay. Got you! Thankyou., so we’re starting to talk about some of the real world applications if you like, how this could be used…and you mentioned 3D fly throughs and CGI and things like that. So I’m kind of interested to get out, what sort of applications is augmented in virtual reality being used for. Could you perhaps give us a top level overview of that?

Dawn: Well, certainly when it comes to property development, new build development, virtual reality is really getting big, one way in which house builders in particular are able to use virtual reality, is in something that we would call a virtual showhome for example. So, when developers are selling new homes as part of a plan, you know, one of the delays in that process is the construction of a real-world showhome and that where virtual reality is enabling a massive leap forward and what we’re seeing now is that house builders are able to sell off plan without a showhome thanks to 3D fly throughs, that of particularly virtual reality, buyers of off plan property, can immerse themselves in the world of the new development, they can really be transported into the heart of that vision of the future and, one of the things to think about virtual reality I think, when it comes to selling houses and selling property is that virtual reality has the ability to be really emotionally engaging and my belief about the selling houses is that it is largely about emotional engagement and perhaps less so for large scale property investors but certainly for home buyers, it’s an emotional decision, it’s a huge financial decision and there has to be an element, I think, of falling in love or getting a feel, we talk about ‘having a feel for the place’ or ‘oh, I just knew when I got there’ and ‘this is the house for me.’ Well, how do you do that if you don’t have a physical house to view? And virtual reality, because, it, it immerses you in the virtual world, it actually almost tricks your subconscious mind into thinking that you’re actually there and that’s a very different experience to watching something on a screen or looking at an image in a brochure, because your subconscious mind believes you’re there. When you take off the headset, I think you have a memory of having been in a place that doesn’t yet exist. So I think that’s interesting and very powerful knowing how virtual reality works psychologically. So certainly, selling new homes off plan is a real growth area for virtual reality technology, the other way it’s being used increasingly, is in estate agency, the ability to view homes without having to go and visit them. So this is where, rather than 3D modelling, it’s most often using three sixty degree cameras so an estate agent can go and have their property photographed, or do it themselves; the technology’s available, at relatively low cost. Buy a three sixty degree camera, put that into each room of the property and then for buyers, if they either have a headset at home, which I think is a big ask, I don’t think that many of us have virtual reality headsets at home yet, but what we’re seeing is a trend and of estate agents investing in virtual reality kit in their sales offices so you can go into a high street branch estate agent a specialist estate agent and view a whole series of properties through a headset without having to go and visit them. And one example of that; we are working with a guy who’s developing property in Barbados but he’s selling to a UK market. So, although it would be lovely to just jump on a plane on spec and go and look at properties in Barbados, actually, in reality that’s that’s a big ask, so the ability to show these properties to UK investors in London and in the UK without them having to travel, that’s a really powerful tool. So for overseas property investment, I’m seeing a growing trend in the use of virtual reality.

Richard: Fantastic. you’re right, I don’t have a virtual reality headset at home! But, I think, maybe it’s going to be coming down stream as indeed things like Xboxes and Wi’s have become more established in the gaming space and I think also, the whole movement sensor thing that you get on the Xbox. I was wondering what about the 3D fly throughs that you mentioned and some of the computer generated imagery you sometimes see. Whether it’s on developers plans or literature or without the use of a headset or whether it’s in estate agents, or even letting agents; sales and marketing material online. That all falls into this space as well doesn’t it?

Dawn: Absolutely, yes it does., you know virtual reality and augmented reality have come out of 3D visualisation. But 3D visualisation in itself is, by no means done. It absolutely is, I would say it is mainstream in property development. It depends on the sort of scale of the project but yes. 3D visualisation, so what that essentially refers to is, some set of architectural drawings from a set of two dimensional CAD plans, a 3D visualiser will create a model of the development that is completely accurate and to scale within 3D software, then you apply all the surface materials to that model, so brick textures and all the external landscaping; trees and planting to build up a model of that site in the software, and then from that 3D software model, we produce the CGIs; computer generated images which are the static CGI virtual reality that you see on the pages of brochures and billboards for new developments, and by putting a camera through that model, you can produce what we call a 3D fly through or 3D walk through which takes your viewer on a journey of discovery through a new development. Those are both external and internal fly throughs and externally, it’s really useful to be able to show a new development in the context of its existing landscape or streetscape so that you can get an idea of how it interacts with its environment. and a 3D fly through might take you on a 3D tour around the development and then perhaps into one of the properties and and around the property. What we really think is the key thing about 3D visualisation is the level of certainty it provides about what you are planning to build. It’s, you know, when I referred earlier on to the idea of using watercolour artists to create artist impressions, that was a kind of hazy interpretation of what a new development might look like. But now, with, with totally new and accurate photorealistic computer graphics, house-builders, developers, architects, and buyers are able to have a much higher level of certainty about every detail of the specification on the finish and of the new property before it’s built. So, fly throughs and CGI are a key property marketing tool but also, much earlier in the preconstruction phase, anyone who’s applying for planning permission for any sort of new extension; that might just be a roof extension or a side extension,, it’s really useful for planning officers to, be able to see a before and after impression of what you’re proposing. So, that’s what we call photo montage. So, you’d take an existing photo of the streetscape or landscape and then, your 3D visualiser would probably just model the new bit so if it is a side extension for example, your 3D visualiser would model that side extension and merge that very accurately with your base photograph, to create a visualisation of your proposed scheme. And that ability then to flick between the before and after scenario. That forms a key part of the landscape and visual impact assessment that many developments require for their planning submission. Those kinds of visualisation really enable and make sure that the planning officers and planning committees are making decisions based on the reality of what you are proposing rather than just a hazy interpretation of the plan because not all of us are great at reading architectural drawings and some planning officers – struggle to see that in their minds eyes. So photo montage is a really useful tool for any planning application and, and quite affordable.

Richard: Yeah, and well, I’ve got a little tick box here of things I’d like to cover with you and you just kind of merrily go through them all and it’s brilliant.

Dawn: (laughs)

Richard: – I did have an image in my mind of when you started out and when you talked about water colour imagery and paintings etc and I did wonder if you were to perhaps engage in the new version of Pablo Picasso, what it might look like. So, I think that by using video and photographic technology, it probably gives you a more realistic (laughs) er….impression.

Dawn: what’s interesting I think and one of the obstacles that we came up against when we were first pitching computer graphics vs watercolour drawings is that for some people is the loss of the ambiance, the nice romantic and how it’s compelling in a different way and that’s the danger especially in the early days when computer graphics hadn’t quite got where it had today. That computer graphics were a bit blocky and harsh to look at and not in those days especially realistic to be honest, so there was a sense that you were losing something of the like I referred back to before, the emotional engagement and the ambiance of the imagery, and that’s another way that the ongoing progress of technology has changed the game, because now with those sort of photorealistic lighting effects, it’s absolutely possible to create a sense of ambiance. Set the lighting to golden hour lighting or whatever it is to get back to the more artistic creative side, so it’s not just the harsh reality and that’s very important. The accuracy and the reality but also the ability to convey a sense of lifestyle, a sense of ambiance, as we know that most hollywood films are now probably ninety percent graphics, it’s absolutely possible to create emotion in it, in a 3D image that wasn’t possible in the early days.

Richard: Yes. Yes and you’ve mentioned one of the things when I saw in when I looked up your background, that you use emotional language quite a lot and you have done already in this conversation. I think, when we are talking about technology, generally speaking, often, we are talking about things that aren’t real. We’re talking about machines, about robots, talking about software code, you know and it’s not very emotional is it? And, I think, you know, we are human! We’re human beings, we have emotions and feelings, we have thoughts and we respond to those. So, I was very keen to pick up on that. You’ve kind of touched on it and it’s taken me in a direction that of wanted to go, which is the features of technology, you can do this and do that with CGI and 3D imagery and virtual reality, for example. Some of the things you’ve already outlined. It’s more the benefit I’m kind of getting into. Of course, surely one of the benefits is the emotional engagement and not just ‘oh, you can bring out emotion.’ It’s what does that emotion actually bring to you? I’ll, I’m leading you up the garden path with my question but, what would you say about: One, this use or this power of emotion but two, the benefits of emotion and widely with virtual reality; lets just use the term virtual reality for now?

Dawn: Yeah, I think it is. I do use emotional language because I think as you say we’re human beings and, we’re talking about buying new homes, selling new homes I think that is very much an emotional journey. I also work with a team of artists and they do consider themselves to be visualisation artists as opposed to software programmers or technology people. So, the interplay between the technology and the creative is at the core of what we do. But yes, I’ve found the emotional engagement of the graphics to be really a key factor and, I downloaded at one point a virtual reality experience of a Syrian refugee camp for example and put on the headset and I was transported into the heart of the Syrian refugee camp. There was a film and there were interviews with various people living there and, it’s such just a phenomenal feeling to be somewhere so different from your own reality and to be immersed there. And until you’ve put on a headset and experienced that of a virtual reality space, I’m not sure you can quite get it but it is different from looking at something on a screen because you feel like you’re there, because your subconscious mind is tricked into believing that you’re there. That is a whole new experience and then then afterwards, I’ve now got this memory in my memory bank of having been to a Syrian refugee camp, which of course I have never been to and now, it’s in my memories and that’s quite interesting. Another thing that I reflect on a lot about 3D visualisation and virtual reality, is the power of visualisation as a way in which we can, you know it’s important as individuals, business owners to be able to visualise our goals right? So, you probably heard about this in the sphere of, athletes and basketball players and that sort of thing where, the very successful athletes are those where they can visualise themselves crossing the finish line first. You know, they will have done a lot of training in visualising their success to achieve or see themselves standing on the podium, they will feel the emotions of winning and it’s been demonstrated and proven that the ability to visualise our goals in life, is a key, success factor and…it’s made me reflect on the fact that although what we’re doing is visualising the new developments when there are real practical, tangible business, benefits of that. I think, the other massive benefit is, if you are a developer of any sort, or a house builder, or a business person expanding your business, the ability to see using 3D visualisation; the image or animation of your goals achieved. I think that is incredibly, psychologically powerful and kind of enables us and empowers us to achieve those goals. and then that ability to share that vision with other people. I like to think that property developers are visionaries. You know, nothing gets built without it being somebody’s vision and somebody’s ambition, so we might have this vision about what we’re trying to achieve but the ability to be able to share that with other people and get other people to be able to see your vision. I think that’s a key factor in visualisation as well., which is a bit off the wall. I think, it is a psychological thing, very interesting to see how that plays.

Richard: Well, you might say it’s a bit off the wall but you may not know that I’ve spoken a few times on the podcast and in other forums about the power of goal setting and visualisation and to help do that about people having vision boards and screensavers and this sort of thing. And I’ve got an app that does something like you just said but you’ve given me a great big breakthrough which is a virtual reality alternative to that. I do agree with you that the subconscious mind is extremely powerful and, can help our conscious mind to do things and achieve things just by the power of suggestion and visualisation as you mention. So, I think, it’s another application for people who are listening to this, I always talk about property investment, whether you’re just running a buy to let, or you’re a large scale developer, it’s a business and if you’re in a business, you try to achieve things in that business, then the power of having goals and visualising achieving those goals is tremendous. So, it’s another, actually an unexpected benefit that you’ve outlined and I didn’t think we’d talk about, but it’s a good idea. I think I might look into that and actually go and get myself one of those virtual reality headsets now.

Dawn: well yes I imagine that one day, we might be producing visualisation so that we can put ourselves into the future of the goals we’re wanting to achieve. Visualise your ambition, if it was to do a TED talk or, if it was your ambition to live in a certain place, achieve a certain goal. Imagine having a virtual reality experience where you were having your name up in lights and everyone was calling your name and everywhere you looked, there were people shouting your name saying ‘you’ve done it!’ I think that would be really powerful wouldn’t it?

Wrap Up

Today was very much about setting the scene for the types of application that both augmented reality and virtual reality can offer. We will pick up the thread again next time, as we discuss some of the benefits, costs, adoption rates, along with some of Dawn’s favourite apps. I would encourage you to join in with our second and final part, if nothing else to hear how you can get hold of a copy of Dawn’s book on selling homes off-plan. But, if you cannot wait that long, then just pay a visit to www.icreate.co.uk or drop Dawn an email: dawn@icreate.co.uk as I am sure she will be will to hear from you before that.

Join me next time for part 2 of this discussion and hear how you can find some of this new technology in your local Lidl and Aldi too!

For now though, the show notes can be found over at www.thepropertyvoice.net or if you want to talk about anything from today’s show, receive an intro into one of my guests or just talk property investing, email me at podcast@thepropertyvoice.net, I would be happy to hear from you!

Once again, all I want to say is thank you very much for listening once again this week and until next time on The Property Voice Podcast…it’s ciao-ciao.

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