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Virtual reality is changing the way we create great customer experiences

11/10/2018

The first time Justin Liang put on a virtual reality (VR) headset, he saw the future.

It was 2017, and he was working for a Sydney-based venture capital fund, investing in start-ups and emerging technologies. As it happened, he was also in the process of buying an apartment off the plan.

“I had thought to myself how strange it was that I was pouring all my savings into a drawing and a handshake,’’ Justin, now 25, says. “You wouldn't buy a car this way, so why property?

“As soon as I tried that headset, I instantly realised that with VR, you could put someone inside a space before it even exists. Whether it was an apartment, an office or a shopping centre, you could bring a plan to life.’’

Inspace XR lifts off

Justin began pursuing the idea by contacting some of the largest real estate companies in the world. He found that while some were looking at the technology, it was so new that they didn't really understand it.

On a visit to Australia's first virtual reality hackathon he met Eric Fear, an expert on 3D and VR technology, and together they co-founded proptech start-up Inspace XR.

Their goal is to transform the way buildings are designed, constructed and sold by immersing people in interactive virtual worlds, allowing designers to optimise plans, and giving potential buyers and tenants the ability to inspect properties they cannot visit.

River Fox

Inspace’s principal product is River Fox, a software that automatically converts architects’ CAD designs into VR. While there are other companies producing VR renders, these are generally handmade, says Justin.

“Whereas we are a software company,’’ he says. “Our product allows the building industry to create their own virtual realities from their own CAD files, with just one click.

“No one else in Australia does that. There are three or four others globally who do, but our differentiation is that once a user is inside River Fox they can interact and do things like run minute-by-minute lighting analyses, add and remove layers, change furniture and take measurements in VR.’’

Fun and challenges

The business is still in its infancy, but CEO Justin is very happy with its progress to date.

“It's been a great ride. A lot of fun, a lot of challenges and a lot of personal growth as well,’’ he says.

“We have been approached by other industries like the automobile industry, but there is more than enough going on in property to keep us busy for now.’’

Charter Hall’s Accelerator program — PropTech

After hearing about the upcoming Charter Hall Accelerator program for proptechs in early 2018, Justin attended an information night.

“I was impressed by the culture at Charter Hall,’’ he says. “I realised the leadership was formed of people who were willing to take risks, to bet on technologies that could change the game.’’

Inspace XR was selected as one of the final four Accelerator participants. The PropTech Accelerator and the resulting relationship with Charter Hall have been a massive learning experience for the young Inspace team.

“At Charter Hall, there are a lot of smart people from different units,’’ he says. “We showed them the technology, and they came back to us with ideas we had never even thought about.’’

Potential applications

Together the two companies are now exploring a range of potential applications of VR across Charter Hall’s business model.

“Firstly, we can use VR to optimise the design-and-build process for new assets to reduce construction mistakes,’’ says Justin.

“We can also market property to Charter Hall’s global set of capital investors. Where they can't bring investors to see assets in Australia, we can bring the assets to their investors overseas in a VR headset. It is a much more engaging narrative.

“And thirdly, we can use VR in pre-leasing. Say a tenant wants to lease a space. Instead of just handing them a brochure or a video, we can put them in a headset and take them on an immersive journey through the area, so that they have that much more confidence in making that decision.’’

Future vision

While VR is their main focus for now, the Inspace team believe augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) will become increasingly important in the future. Their vision is for a suite of industry-standard software for architects, engineers and interior designers that allows them to create their own AR, MR and VR experiences.

“We see a world where architects can step inside their designs, where interior designers can carry a schedule of materials in their glasses and overlay them onto an environment, where engineers can see through the walls, see the piping and the wiring and under the floors,’’ says Justin.

“It’s a world that is better for people to live in, because we spend so much time inside buildings.’’

The Sydney-based team are currently seven strong and growing, and hope to have their first international office established by the end of the year, probably in the US.

“The team do all the magic,’’ says Justin. “They create amazing products in a short time, they go out and speak to customers. The team is the star that built the technology, and Charter Hall are the stars in using the application and bringing it to market.”