How AR and VR Could Change Tourism in New York

Tourist itineraries in New York City are predictable enough to be b-roll cliche. Tourists are easy enough to spot: they move in flocks through Central Park, take selfies at the Statue of Liberty, stare in awe from their slow-moving tour buses at the Empire State Building, and — of course — purchase “I Heart NYC” t-shirts from overpriced carts. The New York that visitors enjoy is predictable, yes, but also vivid, exciting, and well-packed with familiar landmarks; each new day offers wide-eyed tourists the chance to experience famous sights firsthand.

But what if the tourism experience could span more than a well-walked map of landmarks? What if visitors could peel back the cliches of New York’s touristy exterior and delve into its rich history? Augmented and virtual reality technologies may provide a means to do just that, revolutionizing the way visitors experience both the city and its history.

VR and AR’s entry into the tourism sector isn’t all that surprising, given its growing popularity. Analysts for Goldman Sachs estimate that the market for both will overtake $1.6 billion by 2025. Figures from Statista further indicate that as of 2018, 117 million people worldwide were active VR users — a notable leap from four years before, when only 200,000 actively used the technology. Both AR and VR are well-known for their ability to create immersive digital experiences; they empower consumers to delve into their favorite fantasy gaming worlds, experience movies in near-overwhelming sensory experiences, and even virtually “trial” products before buying them in a brick-and-mortar store. With tourism, virtual- and augmented reality technologies promise to add another layer of immersion to an industry that already centers on creating memorable experiences.

VR Expands Tourism Possibilities

Every pre-planned walk or guided bus tour has its limits. Tourists can’t duck under the metaphorical velvet rope to explore their favorite attractions; they have to stay within set, guide-approved bounds. With VR, those limitations are less constricting, offering virtual access to the tourist without compromising the security of the site itself.

As Dr. Nigel Jones, a senior lecturer in information systems at Cardiff Metropolitan University noted for a recent article for the BBC, VR provides “something that’s more tangible to the [tourist]. They can see where they’re going to go, see what’s happening in that location […] The other advantage is to give people an experience that they can’t do. You could take them to a place that’s off limits — like a dungeon in a castle.”

New York City might be running low on castles, but it certainly has no shortage of historic attractions and digitally-explorable landscapes. Consider Governor’s Island, a popular tourist hotspot that sits just East of the Statue of Liberty. Today, the island encompasses several historical sites and a national park — but centuries ago, it was a seasonal fishing spot for Native Americans and an outpost for English and Dutch settlers. The island’s history is rich — and relatively inaccessible for most tourists. However, recent AR innovations have begun to allow tourists to walk through history as they traverse the island.

Inventing America is one such tourist-centered tool. Made publicly available in 2018, Inventing America uses an AR-powered app to transport visitors into a 17th-century, post-colonial version of Governor’s Island. The app provides users with the opportunity to delve into storylines, characters, and history even as they explore the real-life Governor’s Island on foot. Experiences in the app are inextricably tied to physical exploration, ensuring that the AR game complements and supports, rather than replaces, a tourist’s real-world experience on the island.

Of course, not all VR- and AR innovations are quite so based in game and narrative. Others, like the New York City-based tour provider The RIDE, use VR and AR experiences to provide tourists with more information as they drive past popular city hotspots. The RIDE melds traditional tour bus routes with augmented reality technology; each of its buses sport 40 LCD TVs, surround sound, and LED lights. This structure, the company notes, allows facilitators to provide “deeply researched audio/visual support conveying the history and growth of Manhattan” during their tours, thereby superimposing a tech-powered view of a past New York onto the view tourists see beyond the bus’s windows.

Emerging virtual tools promise to add all-new layers to New York’s tourism experience, sweeping away the tired tropes of tourist cliches — and we will be all the better for it.

By |2019-07-15T20:51:17+00:00May 30th, 2019|Culture, Technology|

Will Augmented Reality Take Real Estate By Storm?

Without a doubt, Pokemon Go was the surprise smash hit of summer 2016.

Not only did it earn millions of dollars in revenue in a matter of weeks, it also had 45 million users at its peak, approximately 50 times the amount anticipated by developer Niantic.

But beyond revenue for developers and advertisers, Pokemon Go also helped a host of local businesses, such as restaurants, bars, or bakeries, many of whom listed themselves as PokeStops, catering to hungry, thirsty, or tired gamers, and cashing in on this fad.

How augmented reality works

Pokemon Go is simple: the game uses GPS to juxtapose a lush, digital world of fantastic creatures and epic battles onto real-life streets and roads, blurring the fantastical and the physical. This is called augmented reality, which builds a digital world on top of the physical one–as opposed to virtual reality, which immerses users in a purely constructed, electronic world.  

But there are plenty of revenue-generating uses for AR beyond PokeStops or even gaming. Let’s take a look at the Pokemon Go’s model and how it can be applied to real estate, traditionally seen by people as hidebound and resistant to change.

Real Estate and Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is actually a logical, natural fit for real estate, and has seen a variety of apps and startups in its field. After all, who hasn’t driven or walked through a neighborhood and stopped to stare at beautiful, unique houses or apartments? Who hasn’t walked down the street, seen a lovely residence, and wondered if they would be able to afford to rent or buy it?

Well wonder no longer, because AR real estate apps are here to answer that exact question.  From an app that allows users to hunt for ghostly apartments to an app that can pull up real estate listings from geotagged pictures, AR is here to stay.

Homesnap: a modern answer to an old question

The best answer to the age-old question of “Can I afford that house?” comes from startup Homesnap, which may feature the simplest, most intuitive use of augmented reality since Pokemon Go. With this app, users simply take a picture of each property and access its details, such as price, amenities, and other features.

Recently, Homesnap also opened their app to real estate agents as well as buyers, allowing the two to communicate directly. In a classic example of disruption, Homesnap’s superior user interface and host of features have proven far more popular than more traditional multiple listing services (MLS) sites, which were long the mainstay of real estate agents and brokers.

But that’s not all: in a masterpiece of user experience and branding, Homesnap rolled out its Apple TV app, from which allows users to sync data from their phones to their televisions. More importantly, users can actually search other listings on Apple TV, share data with family and friends, and even browse contract and listing details, all in one click.

Spacious: Ghost stories and apartment discounts in Hong Kong

Founded in Hong Kong, a city with a rich tradition of ghosts and the supernatural, Spacious (not to be confused with the American startup of the same name) tracks residences with mystical, otherworldly pasts.

Using Spacious is simple and fun: players walk around with the app activated, and as they encounter haunted apartments, ghost icons will pop up on their screen.

Beyond simply appealing to seekers of the paranormal and occult, Spacious has a more practical use: helping users find cheap, if haunted, apartments. Given that Hong Kong is the most expensive city in the world, with the price of a luxury apartment equivalent to the cost of an Italian castle, affordable living is impossible unless users are willing to make some compromises.

Chief among these compromises are discounts for hauntings, murders, hangings, and many more. In one famous example, a luxury tower in the centrally-located Wan Chai district offered a 30% discount for an apartment that was the site of a notorious double-murder, whose perpetrator is on trial today.

Augmented reality and life-like modeling

But AR can go well beyond finding discount haunted apartments or geotagging properties. They can also spur new breakthroughs in design and planning, or even help would-be buyers and renters see their new property not as an empty shell, but as a fully-finished room.

Take the example of Augment, an AR software platform which can model anything from espresso machines to furnished rooms. With Augment, prospective clients can view a 2D floor plan or a bare, unfinished room through a tablet or smartphone–and envision the room in a final, decorated state. They can insert couches, tables, televisions, and many more into the physical space to allow for a full, vivid picture of their dream home.

Similar tools exist for modeling commercial properties. In much the same way, empty warehouses are transformed into bustling workspaces with AR, overlaying machinery, assembly lines, and packing containers on top of cavernous rooms, and enticing business owners and factory bosses with visions of a prosperous, vibrant future.

If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand, then AR software like Augment may well be worth a thousand sales.

It’s easy to imagine that, in a few decades’ time, people will look back on our AR in 2016 and see it in much the same way as we remember Apple in the 1980s: as a time of great innovation and change, and a period when technology was just about to hit its stride. Clearly, Pokemon Go was a sign of times to come, an indication of a future where physical and digital blur together, seamlessly.

By |2018-10-31T17:57:19+00:00November 29th, 2016|Technology|