Jul 14, 2020
Leveraging 3D Camera Technology for virtual tours
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our normal routines in several ways. One example is how we buy, sell, and rent real estate. When getting ready to buy or rent a home, the ability to walk through the space to understand the layout and flow are important, but during these challenging times on-site visits are often not possible. As a result, virtual tours are becoming more and more popular. Even prior to the pandemic, sellers and landlord were using virtual tours to shorten the time between initial interest and offer on the table. With continued restrictions in movement due to the pandemic, virtual tours are becoming indispensable, and companies that offer such tours are seeing significant advantages.
For example, as noted by CNBC earlier this year1:
Zillow, a home listing site, saw a 191% increase in the creation of 3D home tours in the first weeks of March compared with the average number created in February. Even before the coronavirus, listings including a 3D Home tour were saved by users 50% more, and those homes sold on average 10% faster.
Another real estate start-up, Zenplace, that provides both virtual tours and tours with robot is “…seeing unprecedented demand for our platform across 35+ states, across both large urban areas that have been most affected, to smaller cities where people are increasingly practicing increased social distancing…”.
Virtual tours leverage 3D camera technology to generate 360-degree images that include a realistic sense of depth. Applications exist to convert 2D images from standard, commercially available cameras (e.g. an iPhone) into 3D digital twins2. As visual requirements for virtual tours become more demanding, purpose-built, high quality cameras are needed that integrate directly with the tools used to generate 3D images. Matterport is designing such camera systems3, and they are seeing rapid growth as a result. For instance, according to a report by the Financial Times sales of Matterport’s 3D cameras jumped 630% in March4. Cushman & Wakefield have also recently announced a global agreement with Matterport to use their 3D camera systems for scanning commercial properties5. While several other companies (e.g. Cupix6) have built technology to use images from commercial cameras to create virtual tours, companies competing with Matterport to develop in-house camera technology as a part of their 3D systems include iGuide7, VPix8, and Ricoh9.
High precision 3D camera systems are also being used in several other application areas, including AR/VR10 and autonomous vehicles11. While there is no new physics behind the development of 3D camera technology, the challenge is to achieve high-quality imaging given the external constraints of the system design, whether those are being driven by mechanical considerations (e.g. developing a camera to fit within a given package size) or post-processing requirements. In all cases, simulation is critical to ensuring that these systems can be developed quickly and efficiently.