As the next best thing after teleportation, virtual reality manifests as a potent tool for acquainting physically distant individuals with new settings. Poised to disrupt the travel industry, real estate, employee training, surgery, military, and any business that stands to benefit from beaming people half way across the world, instantaneously and with zero personal or financial commitment, the advent of spatial interfaces will completely reimagine the ways we interact with our devices.
In support of the technology’s tremendous capabilities, Texas A&M University has recently launched a new VR-enabled virtual tour powered by location-based software company concept3D Inc.’s Xplorer Virtual Tour via its CampusBird platform. With the intent of making its campus more accessible for prospective students to visit—specifically east coasters and those unable to make the trip down to The Lone Star State—the platform is a testament to VR’s capabilities in creating experiences that are not only immersive but convince us to take action. PSFK got a chance to sit down with CEO of concept3D Inc. Gordon Boyes, alongside Texas A&M Senior Graphic Designer Michael Green to discuss how interactive maps and virtual tours will transform academic institutions, as well as convention centers, healthcare, resorts and hotels, retirement communities, commercial real estate and beyond.
“Fundamentally what we do is we catalog content in a 3D world on our platform. We have a content management system that stores our [captures and renderings] in latitude, longitude and elevation. It could be as simple as an aerial view of a map, to fully three-dimensional environments with real-time data feeds” opens Boyes in our discussion. “Anything in the world u can imagine that belongs in a physical space we manage on our system and present it back in a way that drives user engagement and allows people to experience something in a familiar way, like a map, but in a much more immersive style. They can get to know an experience or an institution without ever stepping foot in it.”
Boyes goes on to explain that while virtual reality enables a sense of ‘embeddedness,’ the respective CampusBird and atlas3D platforms further support mobile and large monitor consumption in an effort to offer a truly democratized experience. Whether its high school seniors on their college search or current students looking into their study abroad options, the ability to explore a campus without having to travel to it empowers individuals to make a more informed decision.
At Texas A&M, I wanted to push this idea of 360 videos and images. We have a great visitor experience and we realized we didn’t want to just limit it to people on campus physically. So we started thinking, ‘how can we emulate this experience digitally?’” says Green. “This technology allows access to something that’s otherwise exclusive; imagine putting on a headset and going ‘woah, this school has a nuclear reactor!’ It all really boils down to this: the more you can visualize yourself in a college campus, the more likely you’ll go to that college.”
As an increasingly digital industry, education continues to reform with the introduction of technical advancements such as e-learning, apps, various web-based administration portals, the actual content being taught, and now, virtual tours. And while academics are concept3D’s primary audience, Boyes explains that the vertical isn’t the only one to benefit from this tech.
“There’s an enormous potential for this technology in event planning—specifically when you want to feel out high levels of detail in indoor spaces. We’ll actually use an engineer’s drawn out floor plan to ensure accuracy in our renderings. Or, if you want to see the exterior world, we can get stunning 3D views of places just by working with clients and using satellite images. Sure, there’s other interactive map products out there, but the ability to represent any source in a beautiful and navigable way is what sets us apart” adds Boyes.
On its website, concept3D promises to ‘turn event coordination into an art form’ by getting granular with your strategy and planning every break, booth, concession and so forth for a custom tailored experience. Traffic heat maps further offer insights into where and why crowds gather, so event and urban planners alike can coordinate the best strategies to implement.
During our conversation, Boyes made the distinction between viewing a spreadsheet of repair data for the internal components of an airplane, versus actually being able to pick at pieces and dissect the information in a visual and interactive manner. The latter option illustrates Boyes’ take on concept3D’s work—as Green pointed out, it’s one thing to hear about a nuclear reactor, and another thing to see it (especially when in the comfort of your own living room).
Already, concept3D’s platforms are deep-reaching: you know them as some of Disney’s maps, Google, or perhaps various universities across the U.S. And while the company has left its mark on thousands of brands, there’s no shortage of businesses that could benefit from using map technology to interpret behavior, build smarter infrastructures, develop wayfinding maps and build platforms of their own. The future for many niches outside of the campus touring will inevitably follow suit: a diverse collection of telepresence solutions will seep into our daily lives, enabling us to visit relatives, live out that nightmare of attending class in our underwear, find our next home or travel the world on the world’s smallest budget.