iOi Artificial Intelligence Hackathon. A Race for the Prize!

Header image for the iOi Hackathon. Includes information about the dates (August 1st, teams can start. August 28th-29th, teams meet in San Francisco. August 30th, the winning team is announced).

I’m very excited to announce that CRT is helping put together a Hackathon for NAR’s iOi (Innovation, Opportunity & Investment) Summit! Teams participating in the Hackathon can start on August 1st and must finish at our iOi Summit in San Francisco on August 28th and 29th. There is no cost for the Hackthon portion of the Summit. We will provide space at the venue on August 28th & 29th for participants. The prize will be awarded on August 30th at the venue.

What is the theme of the Hackathon?

The theme is artificial intelligence and machine learning innovation in real estate. You can read more about the Hackathon here, including some potential project ideas and the rules. We are looking to do more than chat bots and we want you to think about the impact of AI/ML in other areas of the selling and buying process. We will be providing APIs for the Hackathon and give you access not only to data, but also innovative tools in the AI/ML space. If you have any tools that are not open source that you’d like to use, we must review them before they are accepted.

Is there a prize for this event?

Short answer: yes. Long answer, we have a couple of options for prizes and we want to choose the best for the event. We have not determined that yet, but it will be announced shortly.

How do I register?

You can go here and register. Please note, you can have a team of up to five. If you are registering as an individual, please indicate if you’d like to have us add you to a team or if you want to work by yourself. You can start on your projects as soon as August 1st, so the sooner you sign up the more time you will have.

We are excited to see your ideas for this first NAR iOi Hackathon.  See you there!

Why Apple’s ARKit2 is Big for Real Estate

Craig Federighi from Apple on stage talking about shared experiences on ARKit2

Screenshot taken from Apple WWDC event by Chad Curry.

Note: For an overview of augmented reality/mixed reality and virtual reality, read our post here.

On Monday, Apple kicked off it’s annual WWDC and it was full of less flash and shiny objects than in the past. What it did have were some very interesting announcements around their software, especially their augmented reality software, called ARKit.

Real estate stands to be greatly impacted by augmented reality.

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • Bring virtual representations of your furniture with you to a showing of a home and stage each room to see how this new place could look with your furniture.
  • Listing details for the home could show up as you walk through a property. Information about how new the flooring or tile is shows up when you point your camera at it.
  • From your phone, you could see the distance and direction to work, school, parks or other locations as you stand in a property.
  • Measure all aspects of the space with your phone and have actionable measurements before you move in.

With ARKit2 we are closer than ever to making that a possibility.

ARKit is the development framework for building augmented/mixed reality apps. It makes it easier to just build and get results. There were four changes that are key to AR becoming more prevalent in real estate applications:

  1. New File Format
  2. Object Detection
  3. Shared AR Experience
  4. Measure App

New File Format

This one is most exciting to me. The new file format called USDZ (Universal Scene Description) was developed by Pixar and allows for you to build assets and use them in various apps. You can send and share these assets and they can be used with anyone using an iDevice. Now, if you’re using Android, you might feel like I’m forgetting about you. I’m not. I anticipate this coming to the Android platform shortly. The reason I’m optimistic is because tools like Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite are supporting this format.

This new file format means you can share AR objects with other apps and users. So, in the future, I could take a pic of my couch and render it as an AR object, and send it along to my wife who wants to see how it looks in a house we are looking at. We could even try out new furntiure.

Object Detection

ARKit2 can detect and allow you to virtually interact with real objects. Lego gave a demo with one of their Lego sets and how it can be detected to create an augmented reality experience:

What’s cool about this is that a specific object could be used to initiate a program or app. For example, I bring a vase from my house that I’ve set as an object to use for this app, set it in the middle of a room in the house, point my camera at it and all my living room furniture appears on my screen placed throughout the room.

Shared AR Experience

This is what makes ARKit2 a big possibility in real estate. Shared experiences let you interact with other users in a virtual/augmented plane. In the video above, the two guys from Lego are interacting in a game. But in real estate. what if you and your partner could interact in a house with our furniture as a team and move things around in the room and make sure it looks how we want it? Having shared experiences means that doing a virtual, real-time staging using your own furniture helps you as a buyer and the REALTOR understand how this house could work.

Measure App

The Measure app is deceptively simple. It allows you to take measurements of objects easily. The trick it plays is that it can measure 3D objects rather simply. In the demo below, you’ll see Craig Federighi from Apple point his camera at a few things and dimensions just appear. Imagine what this means for trying to figure out how to shop for your home:

Having this functionality built right into the phone serves the purpose of giving you a practical tool on your phone. But I believe it’s being built for the future. As it’s learning to create these dimensions and do so accurately, it will make it easier to capture 3D renderings of real world objects and import them into the phone.

There are already some pretty cool apps out there that do some of these things, but the fact that Apple has now integrated all of these features under one system makes it extremely powerful. How else can you see this being useful in real estate? Next we will look at ARCore from Google to give you a sense of what’s to come on the Android side.

Leave comments below.

Augmented Reality & What it Means for Real Estate

IKEA Place app allows you to virtually add furniture to an existing room and walk around it and view it to see if it works for you.

Last week, Adrienne wrote a post on our visit to the DIRTT offices here in Chicago. I wanted to look more deeply at augmented reality, or AR and mixed reality, also called MR. I think these two technologies will have a more significant impact than virtual reality, or VR. There are already some pretty cool apps out there for iPhone and Android with augmented capabilities built in. Today, we’ll look at what’s happening and talk about what’s possible with this space.

What is Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality?

The concepts of augmented reality and mixed reality have been around for years and, if you’ve ever watched almost any sport, you’ve witnessed them in action. For instance, in football, when you see the first down marker in yellow, the scrimmage line is in black and the yardage needed as well as time are overlaid on the screen, you are seeing augmented reality in action. It’s when information is overlaid on a true image of an environment.

Mixed reality is similar, but it includes a fixed point in space where the data is anchored. So, the data overlaid in that football game actually stays where the first down and scrimmage lines are and doesn’t move with the action focus of the camera. This type of augmented reality is most likely going to become prevalent in the real estate industry.

As far as specialized equipment goes, you don’t need much. Phones running modern operating systems today can fully realize these technologies. Apple and Google are doing a lot to make headway in this space.

What do I need to use Augmented Reality apps on my phone?

  • First, you need the latest operating systems from either Apple or Google.
    • iOS 11 or Android Oreo (8)
  • Models of phones matter too:
    • iPhone 7 and above
    • Varies for Android (S8, S8+, Pixel phones are sure bets)

Apple’s system, ARKit has garnered a lot of praise because of how simple it is to use for development. Google’s system ARCore is also getting some great praise.

Why does it matter to real estate?

Augmented reality and mixed reality will allow for the display of data in a different format. AR and MR will mean as you walk in an environment, you could have listing data about each part of the house displayed as you experience the house. So, the windows could ‘show’ you when they were installed, what their energy rating is, how many panes of glass there are and all sorts of other information.

It will also make it easier for you as an agent to work. You could add in place notes for the inspector to review (e.g. – there’s a crack by this window and it needs to be repaired stat.) You could also use your phone to measure rooms and get square footage for the space.

Some example apps

So, let’s show some examples. I’ve embedded a number of YouTube videos below to demonstrate how this works. First, let’s look at what this augmented environment looks like using a game. Here is an example of Minecraft with Apple’s ARKit:

Our friends at CleverFranke created a cool demo called EnARgy which shows you how much energy each one of your devices in your home is using. Pretty cool:

Let’s get to real estate applications. Here is an app called Housecraft from Sirvo. This app allows you to place furniture in an environment and resize it, but also allows you to walk around the furniture and experience it. This is an example of mixed reality:


Imagine if you will that using an app similar to Housecraft, you could take 3d renderings of YOUR OWN furniture and place them in a listing to see how the space works out for your stuff.

Another application was created by Realtor.com. It allows consumers to get the price for a property while walking along and pointing their phone’s camera at a property. Called Street Peak, this app is an interesting way to search and view listings as you are in the environment:

Next Steps

This is not a call for every brokerage to build an app using this technology. Look at what is out there and see how you can use it. It will be a couple of years before this space has some more penetration. What I recommend is get yourself familiar with this space and what people are doing. What we will see is a new type of display, so what does that mean for data standards? What does it mean for the consumer in the transaction as well as the agent? How will this streamline the process? How will it cause us to evolve? Leave your thoughts below.

Productive Industries & Farms: Malls as Maker Spaces

A picture of a mall with vacant retail spaces. The text 'The Development of Productive Industries & Farms' is overlaid. This references one of the tenents in NAR's Code of Ethics preamble.

People around the country are working to revitalize malls. What moves do you see in your community?

This piece and thoughts around it were inspired by my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. It’s a town of 20,000 that’s relied on manufacturing labor for decades. It also has a mall that was a fixture of my formative years and was my town square. It’s where you went to see and be seen. Movies, music and books, a connection to the outside world. My internet before the internet. The problem today, however, is malls like the one I grew up with are experiencing hard times. As an example, Muscatine Mall, had 30+ stores in its heyday. Today, that’s been reduced exponentially. I asked my dad to document it and below are photos from a Saturday a couple weeks back.

Main hallway of a mall. A majority of the stores are vacant

The main hallway for the mall. We used to do many laps around this space on Friday and Saturday nights, waiting for movies to start or friends to arrive. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

A vacant glass storefront in a mall.

You’ll see some natural light in these pictures and that’s one of the attractive features of this space. It provided a connection to the outside world in this built space. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

A row of vacant stores in a hallway of a mall.

These stores were national chains and brands. Some of the stores in the mall today are local merchants. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

Glass-walled store that is empty.

This was the first video store in town. I remember going here to rent films. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

A former flagship store at a mall that is vacant

This was an anchor store for the mall since its opening. It closed several years back. (Photo courtesy: Tom Curry)

Honestly, it is tough to see a place I used to frequent look so underutilized. Understand, I’m not critiquing the owners of the mall. They are interested in seeing this space succeed. It’s not their faults. Retail is taking a hit and small markets like Muscatine are suffering. The New York Times recently had a feature on a man who’s documenting the demise of malls. So what to do with the space?

A recent article of On Common Ground from our Smart Growth group at NAR points out various efforts around the US to repurpose malls. It’s a great piece. From community colleges to transitional housing, there are some really innovative efforts taking shape. But I’ve had an idea that I am certain someone is attempting and I just haven’t heard about it. What if malls became maker spaces?

What is a Maker Space?

By now, you may know that CRT is building our own environmental quality sensor for members to use as closing gifts. We were able to get this project started at our offices in Chicago. We have a 3D printer, equipment for soldering and building sensor boards. But then, we started to hit the limits of our equipment and space. Rather than asking our Budget Committee for hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment we may only use a few times, we decided to look for a space we could work on this type of thing in. We were lucky to find a space called mHUB.

mHUB is 63,000 square feet, and over two million dollars worth of light manufacturing equipment. It’s a non-profit that was launched out of public and private partnerships with the City of Chicago through an organization called World Business Chicago and an awesome 8,000 square foot maker space called Catalyze Chicago. They joined forces with a number of businesses and created an amazing space.

In mHUB, we have access to a Woodworking Shop, a Metals shop, a 3D print lab, electronics lab, laser cutting machines and several other types of equipment. Things as simple as hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches. Not only that, we have access to the mindshare of mHUB members. Engineers, industrial designers, software developers, and hobbyists with an amazing idea. It’s a village of great innovation.

We pay a monthly membership and it allows us to access any of that equipment. It also gives us access to others working on projects that could overlap with our work or who could help inform what we’re doing and learn from them. We can prototype rapidly without incurring the traditional costs of manufacturing. mHUB consists of groups, like NAR, people who are trying out a new idea with no previous manufacturing experience, industrial engineers, artists and large companies, like GE.

Now imagine if cities like my hometown Muscatine, could use this to revitalize its industry and help workers who may be out of work, or people with an idea without a lot of capital, find a new way to make a living. It makes sense to me when I think about towns like Muscatine because of the workers’ skill sets.

Malls as Maker Spaces

In taking our experiences at mHUB, I see hope for the malls like the one in Muscatine. They can become communities of industry and innovation. Here are some potential uses for the space:

  • The former shoe store becoming a woodworking shop
  • The bookstore a 3D print lab
  • The music store a tool library
  • The cinemaplex of 4 theaters a space to hold presentations and meetups
  • Job training could happen in the larger anchor stores and could be sponsored by the local companies
  • The food court becomes a place to restaurants in the city to have pop ups or a cheap kiosk to sell lunch to the workers at the space
  • Another storefront could become a server room and a local ‘cloud’ created for participants in the space
  • Yet another space becomes a place to grow food

It could become a place to attract new business, a place to let the local business and manufacturing companies sponsor, and let the makers sell their wares.

My statement above about growing food is not a crazy one. Recently, a company called Plenty received a $200 million dollar investment from Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, and other investors. Plenty creates systems for growing food indoors. Imagine if the food court became the place to grow food. Fresh food could be harvested and sold in an indoor farmers market.

So rather than going to the mall to buy manufactured goods, they become places to manufacture.

Revitalizing spaces in Muscatine is not a new idea, or for other communities for that matter. I’m very aware of the impact malls had on downtowns. In fact, in Muscatine, our downtown was decimated by the mall. But today, there are efforts to revitalize. One building in particular now has a great coffee shop and other specialty shops and is a destination for community members. Muscatine is not unique for this. Groups like Recast City are helping local governments think about how to do this type of thing.

The Challenges of this Idea (To Be Continued)

This is a long piece, so I’ll end with the presentation of the premise and say that I see challenges. I’m also looking for your ideas around what the challenges would be. Here is what I see as some immediate challenges:

  • Cost
  • Community buy-in
  • Business buy-in
  • Building Infrastructure
  • Zoning
  • Space utilization
    • Does it all need to be filled at once?
    • Does it all need to be a maker space?
  • Covering ongoing costs
  • Who owns it?

So, what do you think? Does it sound feasible? Definitely submit ideas and thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

Things Thursday #020: What makes a city smart?, Microsoft entering the thermostat battle, and some great resources on smart homes for you

A hand holding our environmental quality sensor, which is called the Touchstone. It's about the size and shape of a bar of soap.

The Touchstone sensor from CRT Labs. This device will read temperature, humidity, light, CO2, VOCs, particulate matter and more.

  1. What are 10 key things that make a city smart? (via ReadWrite)
    This is a great roundup of what a city needs to be smart. From connectivity to sensing, ReadWrite put together a great roundup. If you’re interested in the real estate perspective on smart cities, we’ve got a series for you to check out called ‘The Building of Functioning Cities‘.
  2. And finally: Amazon Echo 2 incoming and more (via Wareable)
    Yes, this is a list of smart home/wearable items for you to peruse. They have some good intel on Amazon’s latest smart speaker as well as what Apple’s up to on the smart home front. Check it out.
  3. What to know about smart home technology: 10 smart home resources for REALTORS (via CRT Labs)
    Another roundup??? What’s going on with this list? 🙂 I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to our roundup of resources you can take advantage of to bolster your understanding of this emerging market. Why does it matter to you? Because it matters to your clients. Read on to find out more.
  4. Microsoft’s Cortana-powered thermostat is totally gorgeous (via CNET)
    This is definitely something to consider. A nice-looking thermostat from Microsoft and Johnson Controls. No pricing info yet, but keep an eye on this. It’s called the GLAS, it’s voice-enabled (with Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Alexa) and it monitors indoor and outdoor air quality. If you want a voice-enabled thermostat now, check out the Ecobee4 with Alexa integration. If the $249 price point is keeping you away, you should look for rebates from your utility or insurance company.
  5. Touchstone: Environmental Quality Monitor for your home! (via CRT Labs)
    Finally, a look at what we’ve been up to. This device is not on the market yet, but take a look at our work. Really proud of our group here at NAR. Akram, one of our lab engineers, provides a pretty deep dive into what we’ve been up to with this device. I’m really proud of our team and their efforts to make this piece of hardware and the software behind it. They’ve been extremely supportive of one another and have collaborated better than I could have imagined. Kudos to them.

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook