The 50-story Riverwalk Place in Tampa will be the tallest tower on Florida’s west coast. The $350 million structure, designed by Gensler, will include 33 levels of condominiums and 10 floors of office space. (Feldman Equities)

Real estate thought leaders no longer have to conceptualize disruptions like sensors automating traffic and avatars replacing workers, but also cars evolving as a tech-integrated “other space” in day-to-day life, experts said during a recent 2020 ULI Tampa Trends event.

Concepts are changing development faster than most people can imagine, said speakers at the event in Tampa’s Armature Works project.

“There’s a percentage of smart developers who understand what’s happening, but they just don’t believe the urgency,” ULI speaker Deven Spear, chief innovation officer for Connecticut-based Overabove marketing group. “The majority may not believe it will ever happen.”

To underscore the rate of emerging breakthroughs, Spear noted that Americans took 74 years to adopt the telephone and only about a tenth of that time to embrace smartphones.

Accelerated changes are due to a convergence of new technologies—artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, block chain, sensors, and 3-D printing. And the rate of artificial intelligence adoption grows exponentially, Spear added.

“When they work together [new technologies], you get Uber, Airbnb, or Netflix. They have destroyed entire industries,” Spear said. As others have predicted, Spear said that the real estate industry has lagged, but it also will transform.

On the Ground

In terms of projects embracing next-generation tools, Spear pointed to Water Street Tampa, the largest downtown redevelopment in the United States. Strategic Property Partners has invested in technology for smart parking solutions and traffic sensors that can improve congestion throughout the 56-acre (22 ha) project on the city’s waterfront.

In addition, the University of South Florida medical school opened there in January with Microsoft’s first-ever Medical School of Innovation, offering learning experiences augmented by artificial intelligence.

David Smith, senior vice president for Strategic Property Partners, attended the ULI presentation and said that the prospect of working on an innovative project of such scale lured him to Tampa from the Washington, D.C. area.

“We are making a livable, walkable community within downtown,” Smith said. “We’re not just doing one building. We’re creating a district that is for people throughout the city.”

In Homes, Offices, and Cars

Throughout the country, Spear pointed to Soul Machines and other companies that are creating avatars in what could lead to cost-savings initiatives. Embedded with information, real-time avatars now answer questions for buyers, sellers, renters, and anyone else. These, he added, “are a replacement for a person.”

Voice-activated products, such as Amazon’s Alexa, are now embedded in kitchen appliances and bathroom furnishings. Image sensors will ultimately be implanted on food, coinage, signs, and apparel. Spear noted that washing machines can sense how much detergent garments need.

Technologies are all quickly reshaping the experience of driving with increasingly autonomous vehicles, such as Tesla, responding to the voice requests of drivers.

“You have home, work, and this is going to be the third place—the car,” he said.

Behind New Decisions

Under it all lies a growing dependence on data that can be leveraged by everyone making decisions—from homebuyers to commercial-property investors and analysts. Using technology to get information to “the right person at the right time is key to strategic marketing.” And measuring results can lead to continual improvements, Spear added.

The innovation chief cautioned that the increasing reliance on data mining and virtual technologies has downsides. The digital life can create a sense of emotional diconnection. Legitimate news and information become impossible to discern.

Regardless of the negatives, Spear advocated that real estate groups enter the arena by tackling a new tech initiative, such as data collection or avatar creation.

“Do the work, build a team, deploy something. Measure and collect your own data with your eye on the prize,” he said.