You know you’re onto something when the big guys start taking an interest.
And for James Morris-Manuel of Virtual Walkthrough, the last few months have seen proof that his concept of walking people through building interiors has reached the big time.
Morris-Manuel has just sold his business to larger US company Matterport. The move means he is now part of a much bigger organisation, with the potential to roll out the walkthrough technology faster, and globally. It’s a big step for the start-up, which only launched its product publicly at the 2015 MIPIM property conference.
An increasing number of people are becoming familiar with walk-through technology, which is used by a growing number of companies, in particular estate agents. The experience of a walkthrough is similar to Google’s Street View, albeit within a building interior. But there are a variety of approaches, some less sophisticated than others.
Virtual Walkthrough was set up to harness the latest technological advances, and create a really immersive viewing experience. “We have a piece of capture equipment,” explains Morris-Manuel, “which captures the image data and uploads it to the cloud.” Clever software stitches together the images, allowing for seamless movement through an interior. “From that point you have a few options.”
Most walk throughs are viewed on the internet, via a website, though that is set to change. Individually worn oculus headsets can also be used: “These give the clients the opportunity to have a really immersive experience.”
Morris-Manuel uses Samsung headsets, but says currently there are few mobile devices with sufficient computing power to handle the images well; an overloaded smartphone chip will simply render poorly, in some cases making users feel sick. But the technology is improving, he says: “I think this Christmas will be quite a pivotal moment.”
Much of Virtual Walkthrough’s work to date has been with property companies. Estate agents including Winkworth, CBRE and JLL use the technology to allow people to experience homes and commercial buildings without the need to visit. Shopping centre developers use the walkthrough to show retailers who their neighbours might be, should they rent a specific shop unit. Hotels are using walkthroughs to impress potential guests, as are cruise companies.
While Virtual Walkthrough had created its own photography technology, the link with Matterport means that their proprietary camera equipment can be used instead. That means it is easier for less technical users to buy the kit, and capture the raw image data within a building.
“The deal has given us the opportunity to grow our business quite substantially.” The company has gone from being a team of 10, to part of a 145 strong group. “It’s given us the resource and the hardware we’ve always wanted. And we’re hoping this becomes the industry standard.”
Morris-Manuel is back to concentrating on growing his company, after the stress of the deal – and the long days working across timezones. “The acquisition process was very tiring, especially with Matterport based in California. But post acquisition, it’s just been very exciting.”