Digitizing Spaces: Why keeping a digital copy of your physical space is key

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The was contributed by Jon Mason, cofounder, and CEO of Hotspring
Every industry is currently riding the wave of ‘digital transformation’. Whether to increase efficiency and productivity or enable teams to operate remotely, most companies have been forced to reevaluate their operations in response to the pandemic. According to Flexera, 54% of companies worldwide said they are now prioritizing their digital transformation in 2021. But digitization doesn’t have to be like boiling the ocean. It’s never been quicker and more cost-effective to build out digital doubles which can provide the foundation for further development.
Many industries are in the midst of their digital transformation and are looking for ways to accelerate digitization within their businesses. Over the last decade, the evolution of 3D mapping technology has come on leaps and bounds. In fact, the global 3D mapping market is expected to grow by 15% to $7.6 billion by 2025. What once might have cost thousands of dollars and needed countless hours of work can now be produced on a digital tablet in minutes. For example, digitizing a physical space with a company like Matterport might only cost a couple hundred dollars. It has never been more accessible.
One early developer of this technology, and arguably one of the most important, is Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC). As you can imagine, the need to be efficient when coordinating a large-scale construction project amongst a number of different vendors and stakeholders is key. By using an intelligent 3D model-based process that efficiently plans, designs, constructs, and manages building and infrastructure, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has become an integral part of how this industry operates. In fact, the BIM software market’s global value is expected to almost triple and reach $15 billion by 2027.
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As more companies start to realize the true value of investing in virtual assets, transforming large physical spaces into explorable 3D ‘digital twin‘ models that are easily accessible, provide valuable insights into the physical asset and offer opportunities for innovation. What was once an exclusive tool within the AEC industry, 3D mapping technology now offers a number of benefits for a wide variety of industries including real estate, event planning, property development, education, pharma, retail, and more.
When you digitize a space, you unlock a whole host of possibilities and one of the more common advantages is the removal of physical limitations. Picture walking through a virtually built environment that has a near unlimited amount of detail, allowing you to see varied interiors featuring different color patterns and decor, or the ability to view the location at various times of the day. 3D mapping technology has the power to construct a vividly powerful virtual experience based on the intentions of an architect or designer, bringing their vision to life in minute detail and making it accessible to a range of stakeholders.
Using a mix of 360-degree cameras and photogrammetry, 3D mapping technology can stitch together any captured footage of a space to create a singular model that is not only a virtual walkthrough but also a dimensionally accurate model of that space. This can then be brought into Unreal Engine, or a similar 3D visualization tool, to unlock new ways of experiencing the premises without actually having to be physically in that space.
Whether you’re selling a new apartment in New York, renting a holiday home in Cancun, or inviting guests to book hotel rooms in remote locations, potential customers need to be able to view the property. By creating a digital double of the space you remove all geographical constraints and open up the possibility for people to immerse themselves in the space from anywhere around the world. As surveyed by Planet Home Study, 75% of buyers agree that a virtual home tour is a major deciding factor in whether they would buy a property or not.
One company utilizing this technology is a spatial data company that bridges the physical to the digital and is able to take an existing space, scan it and upload it into the digital world. Utilizing 3D mapping technology empowers the users to capture and connect rooms to create truly interactive 3D models of spaces. This new technology has been hailed as a new platform for helping the real estate business to expand, particularly during the pandemic COVID-19.
Another key benefit of having a digital copy of your physical space is the ability to create unique and innovative experiences. In an HBR survey, 40% of respondents said that customer experience was their top priority for digital transformation. Since every experience with a customer impacts their overall perception of a brand, taking an approach that focuses on relationships with customers is a wise move. So how can having a digital space help?
Staging an event or experience in a physical space may be the norm, but if access to the event is limited by location then you’re potentially excluding a vast number of potential customers. However, if the event is held in a virtual capacity, you tap into the freedom to expand not only the audience but also the levels of creativity behind the experience. For example, customers could meet with fashion designers in a virtual store or attend a virtual concert from their favorite artists – like one recently reformed band has planned to do.
From a business perspective, creating a digital copy of your premises offers cost-saving opportunities for all enterprises, increases productivity, and elevates their creativity. For outlets like supermarkets, that traditionally rely on their physical location, the advantages of creating a digitized space may not be immediately obvious. However, by virtually mapping all of your locations you can work on crafting campaigns that can be rolled out across all stores at once, allowing you to visualize the look, arrange fittings, and implement various installments at the push of a button.
As you can see, there are a ton of advantages for businesses when they embrace the digitization of their spaces, so why aren’t more people opting in? The immediate answer is simply lack of awareness; it’s just not something that people are thinking about. The truth of the matter is, most people don’t realize how amazing these virtual renderings can look. When people think of digital space, they automatically think of traditional architectural renders which at times have looked unrealistic. Thanks to the advancements in 3D mapping technology, these digital twins are now incredibly photorealistic. Companies like Cushman Wakefield, a global leader in the commercial real estate industry, have been working to help create highly accurate 3D digital twins of their properties for 24/7 virtual tours.
Traditionally it’s also been quite expensive to go through this digitization process and getting funding for a large-scale project like this is difficult. But as we mentioned previously, what once used to cost quite a lot can now be done much cheaper with the right services. In fact, Cushman Wakefield realized an estimated 53% cost savings by providing an alternative to purchasing cameras and individually training employees to scan such a large volume of digital twins.
However, it should be noted that this technology is still in constant development and can sometimes be limited in its application. At present, some companies only allow users to view these doubles from specific vantage points, which limits the lengths to which it can be truly immersive. By hiring creatives with the right skill set, businesses are empowered to generate digital copies of their spaces. As the world adapts to a hybrid working model in the wake of the pandemic, there are companies that connect creative talents from around the world with the companies that require their services. By marrying these digital doubles with highly-skilled artists, they can be transformed into fully immersive and interactive experiences.
Another common misconception is that VR or AR is required for it to be immersive and engaging and that this could be a blocker, but according to Statista, experts believe that demand for VR/AR headsets will increase almost eight-fold by 2025. But even if you don’t own a VR or AR headset, these digital spaces are still accessible through web browsers, mobile apps, or in-store. While not as immersive, it is still completely photo-realistic and allows users to experience a digitized space.
One such business utilizing this VR and AR technology is beauty powerhouse L’Oreal. Their teams have developed an app that allows customers to virtually apply makeup, such as nail polish and lipstick, to themselves with their smartphones. They’ve now incorporated this technology into their stores via “magic mirrors” which allow customers to virtually apply the makeup and order the products they prefer directly from the device. With the beauty industry becoming such a lucrative market, we expect to see more brands taking their lead.
While there is plenty of room for growth and expansion in the digitization space, the question remains: where do we go from here? The big buzzword on everyone’s lips at the moment is “the metaverse” — a collection of various online worlds in which physical, augmented, and virtual reality converge. Think of it as an online forum where people can interact with one another, go to work, buy goods and services, or even attend events. And while the metaverse as we’ve described above may not be a reality right now, there are businesses like Facebook that are actively trying to make this concept a reality.
Dubbed the next evolution of the internet, everybody is under the impression that we will be spending more and more of our time in this metaverse soon enough. Where your digitized space may once have been a solitary experience, it may soon grow to become a bustling and interactive marketplace where friends and colleagues can join together to experience what your business has to offer. Creating a digital copy of your physical space can help future-proof your business for what could be coming tomorrow.
Jon Mason is the cofounder and CEO of Hotspring
 
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