Emerging technologies will bring major changes to the real estate industry, prompting questions that people will be pondering over the coming months and years.
“We’ve got to restart our thinking about what we do,” said Paul Doherty, chief executive officer and president of Memphis-based the Digit Group, a leading provider of “smart city” solutions. “We are now in the age of the possible. Technology is bringing new methods to the real estate sector; we’re no longer trapped in the two-dimensional world.”
Doherty was a discussion leader during a panel at the 2017 ULI Spring Meeting in Seattle. Doherty and LaSean Smith, senior director of strategy at Microsoft, talked about how advances in technology are transforming real estate development.
Smith said the expanding influence of technology in real estate will continue to grow, not only in terms of its effect on productivity, but also in new arenas such as mixed reality.
Also called “augmented reality,” mixed reality merges the real and virtual world. “Mixed reality breaks down the barriers between virtual and physical reality,” Smith explained. “It is a system where people, places, and objects from the physical and virtual worlds merge together in a blended environment to create a new canvas.”
The experience is similar to that of using virtual reality, seeing your hands manipulate an object or bringing a holographic representation of another person into your virtual world for collaboration.
Using a small lens in front of the viewer’s eye, Microsoft’s new HoloLens technology superimposes images directly onto a user’s field of view, allowing that person to visualize and interact with holograms. Users are present and aware of the physical space they are occupying as well as of the other people around them.
Architects and engineers already use three-dimensional building information modeling (BIM) to visualize the interiors of towers; mixed reality now brings high-definition holograms to life by overlaying that reality with digital content.
“Mixed reality from a variety of technology providers will impact all stages of real estate development,” Smith predicted.
Technology companies like Microsoft are changing the way real estate development is carried out, added Doherty. “All of our positions are changing because of tools by Microsoft and others allowing us to happen,” he said. “Technology is part of a palette, and we’re using it more and more.”
At the same time, piezoelectric (PZ) technology— discovered in the 19th century—could have significant benefits for building owners today, Doherty said.
Piezoelectric technology, which uses movement to create energy, is being studied for use in collecting and redistributing energy in buildings. PZ material—which releases an electric charge when placed under mechanical stress—is placed under carpets or other floor covering and generates power through compression when people walk on it. The energy is stored in a graphene battery and distributed wirelessly. (Graphene-based supercapacitors are said to store almost as much energy as lithium-ion batteries, charge and discharge in seconds, and maintain these capabilities over tens of thousands of charging cycles).
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta—the world’s busiest airport—has a piezoelectric selfie photo booth where visitors run, jump, or dance to power a camera to take a self-portrait. “There’s also a larger piezoelectric installation at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta under the concourse and playing field,” Doherty added. “Its power is generated by people walking on the concourse and could supply electricity for food service and lighting. The players will generate energy used by field equipment and lighting.”
Doherty’s firm is also working with a number of municipalities throughout the world designing technology innovations—including piezoelectricity, autonomous vehicles, and drones—and implementing them in urban environments to increase operating efficiency and improve the quality of services. It is now applying some of the technologies developed in these other countries to operations in the United States.
“We’ve got to restart thinking about what we do, and technology is going to help us do that,” he said.
Panel moderator Daniel Barrett, executive vice president of strategy and corporate development at Seattle-based Sellen Construction, agreed. “Technology will have a transformative impact on real estate in the next decade,” he said.
Mike Sheridan is freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia.