Remember the scene in Back to the Future II where Michael J Fox’s character Marty McFly, visiting the year 2015, is overwhelmed by a holographic movie advertisement for Jaws XIX, the 18th sequel to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws? That’s the kind of ‘Augmented Reality’ experience that brands are beginning to embrace today – though, not so much the idea of sharks popping out of movie posters. Developers are creating images within applications that blend in with contents in the real world; and these applications are making their way into industries like advertising and real estate. For instance, imagine coming across a property advert on a suburban street and having the ability to scan the advert using a smartphone to see floor plans in 3D or virtually walk through the property. This is what Perth-based startup Virtualiis (pronounced Virtualise) enables.
Virtualiis, which has been nominated in the 24th WAITTA INCITE Awards in ‘Best Startup’ category, has created an application that works in much the same way as a QR code scanner, but instead of being diverted to a URL, the user is directed to an animated and interactive virtual world. Under its ‘3D Marketing’ offering, Virtualiis allows businesses to showcase an extra dimension to their product or project to prospective customers. Given the startup is focusing on the real estate industry for the time being, this means that potential customers can see a floor plan in 3D or even view a 3D model of the display home through Virtualiis’ mobile application.
For the uninitiated, this might still be confusing. Think of it this way: you come across a construction site; in front of it is a sign board containing basic information about what is being built. On the sign board there will also be a square-shaped ‘Scan Me’ showcase marker. To scan the marker, you would need to have the Virtualiis app installed on your phone. You scan it using the app, and Virtualiis will direct you into a 3D world. The app has controls which allows you to move through the 3D imagery and get an understanding of the property’s shape and form.
More interestingly, if the property advertiser wants to showcase the building in life-size 3D (as opposed to just 3D), then you will be directed to a slightly different kind of experience where your smartphone or tablet acts as your third lens. You can be standing outside the construction site with your smartphone held at arm’s or elbow’s length, and move the phone up and down or side to side to see what the building will look like in life-size. Essentially, you are visualising the property (prior to being built) through the lens of your smartphone or tablet.
Property advertisers can also allow potential customers to immerse themselves in an upcoming property sales presentation using Oculus Rift headsets, which means they can walk through the property as if they’re visiting the future and engage with the product without any distractions.
Added to that, Virtualiis also gathers data so that businesses can analyse how customers are engaging with the 3D marketing campaigns.
Founder of Virtualiis, Rebecca Lee, told Startup Daily that, a couple of years ago when she was looking to purchase property prior to its development, she recognised a number of limitations. Purchasing property prior to the completion of its development is usually cheaper, but also riskier, because the customer is essentially investing in a concept – not unlike investing in a wireframe before it becomes a product. Although real estate websites show floor plans, they don’t give potential customers a good-enough understanding of how the property will look and feel in the real world. What’s lacking is the third dimension.
“I learned that when you’re buying off-the-plan, it’s not just about the building, but about the builder’s reputation, the history, the area, the growth of the area, what the future’s going to be like … And from just reading floor plans, I was really struggling to envision the product. There’s a massive communication gap. Because the developers work in property every day, they can read these plans, they understand the imagery. And they’re not just selling property, but also lifestyle,” Lee explained.
“But if you’re working in something completely different, it’s hard to get yourself into that headspace. My thought was: why do we have this secondary language when we can just see the property, walk through it and actually experience it as if it were built today? That’s the core idea behind Virtualiis.”
Although Virtualiis launched this year, it’s a product of two years of research, case studies, and development. The Virtualiis team has been working closely with architects, property developers and real estate agents to identify their pain-points and needs. One of those pain-points is selling property prior to its development because there’s nothing to physically show.
Lee said two years ago, when she conceived the idea behind Virtualiis, Augmented Reality was considered ‘magical’. It was too difficult for people to understand, and in many circumstances, it still is. But generally, people have a better understanding of Augmented Reality and technology futurists claim it’s ‘the next big thing’ that will transform industries.
At the moment, the Virtualiis application is free for the end-user. Although the monetisation model hasn’t been set in stone, property marketers will be charged a subscription price. The startup is also looking to charge on a per-project basis depending on the needs of the customer. It could be something like custom virtual reality simulations or any other task related to Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.
The data-aspect of the application is also a work-in-progress. Lee said as more customers get on board, the startup will have a greater understanding of what kind of data they need and want. At the moment, the application collects the details of users who viewed a property’s 3D model. The property marketer can therefore identify prospective customers, but it’s up to them to convert engagement into property sales.
What’s most exciting about Virtualiis is that it has the potential to take real estate – an industry that’s been on the brink of disruption, but never quite tipping over the edge – into the future. There are many startups trying to bring real estate into the present – mainly by digitising what’s previously been paper-based and creating match-making algorithms to connect consumers to property in unique ways – but there aren’t as many thinking about the future of real estate.
That said, Virtualiis is still in its infancy. This is understandable given the technical complexity of its offerings. The small team of three is currently seeking funding from angel investors. Lee said they’re looking to raise between $250,000 to $500,000, not millions.
“We’re not looking for millions of dollars because we’ve got the application and the core team here in Australia. We’re just ready to go to market. We’ve got a lot more Research and Development to do but a lot of the groundwork has already been done. We just want some really insightful investors to help us grow and become one of the leading companies in Australia,” said Lee.
She also said that the startup is looking to head East because “there’s a lot more going on”. Lee didn’t say Perth is bad; in fact, she said the startup scene in the city has been very supportive. She just wants to see what opportunities Eastern cities can offer.
“I find Perth is beautiful. What I like about it is it’s a developing city and that’s partly why I was inspired to work on an application that allows you to envision the future today. There’s a lot of development going on Perth as well,” said Lee.
“I’ve just been weighing the opportunities and seeing where it takes us. We haven’t chosen one or the other.”
Lee is also open to the prospect of expanding into Asia as well as the US, but feels that the opportunity is years away. In the mean time, Virtualiis will be focused on raising funds, growth, and additional research and development.