VR Series: Using Tech to Sell Tech

Virtual reality is not just for gamers anymore. An architecture firm shows that it can help immerse clients in a project to sell more tech.

DiMella Shaffer, based in Boston, started working with virtual reality a year ago and has already seen a change in its business. Smart lights, solar and home automation in general are hard to see in 2D or 3D, but virtual reality is changing that.

“They’re hiring us for it. It’s allowing us to make decisions faster, and I think that all of those components, in the end, are cost-saving or money making components,” says Frank Valdes, associate principal at DiMella Shaffer.

One of the models DiMella Shaffer built before virtual reality was available.
One of the models DiMella Shaffer built before virtual reality was available.

Project presentations have been historically done on paper or with small-scale models to give the client a feel for what the project would mostly likely look like. But this method of presenting took a lot of time and money.

Thus, DiMella Shaffer moved directly into virtual reality as a way to offer an immersive experience to clients while saving time and money that otherwise would be spent on building models.

“In today’s day and age, you need to use technology to present technology,” says Valdes.

RELATED: VR Series: The Rise of Virtual Gaming

The Virtual Reality Process

The design work begins with pictures of the building site and modeling software, Rhino3D and Revitt. Virtual reality program Unreal Engine is then used to finalize textures, lighting and scenery to make them look realistic.

“You know, when you tell a client, ‘Here’s your rendering,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m paying for that?’ But when you actually immerse them in the experience, and they put on the Oculus goggles, and they’re capable of seeing, they want to pay for that,” says Valdes.

Oculus is a company that makes goggles for viewing virtual reality. 

Toro configures the Oculus Rift for viewing.
Toro configures the Oculus Rift for viewing.

Making the Sale

Virtual reality has undoubtedly helped lock down more clients, as it offers a way for architects to compete in an evolving marketplace. Just as builders and contractors are getting on board with tech, architects must do the same.

Virtual reality allows the architect to present a range of possible technologies to the client at one time, instead of creating renders and models at each step. This saves time and money.

TecHome builders, that’s why it’s worth your while to work with an architect who’s using systems like virtual reality. It’ll set you apart.

“If the client has to get out of the car to open their garage door instead of it happening automatically, as they’re moving into the garage. That’s one thing that they’ll notice from using the VR experience,” says Sebastian Toro, head of virtual studio at DiMella Shaffer.

An automated garage door is just one example. If your client wants smart lights and a touch panel in the living room but is unsure of placement, they can see a variety of options through virtual reality.

This on-the-fly design opportunity allows builders to stay efficient when juggling multiple projects and makes clients feel as though they are a vital part of the design process. DiMella Shaffer sees this helping on a range of building types and tech applications—from understanding the look of solar panels to optimal home theater speaker placement. 

Past renderings highlight how projects worked before virtual reality.
Past renderings highlight how projects worked before virtual reality.

Options for Hard-to-Reach Clients

The DiMella Shaffer team was recently brought on at a local expo to use virtual reality to display automation and efficiency tech inside a tiny home. Because of the home’s size, it was not handicapped accessible. But virtual reality offered an option for the disabled to get a life-like glimpse inside.

RELATED: Tiny Home Makes Big Impact in Boston

There are also software options for when clients are out-of-state. Augmented reality systems use a phone or tablet to turn a 2D tracker pad into a 3D view when looking at the tracker pad through the tablet’s screen.

DiMella Shaffer also sends Google Cardboard headsets to clients, allowing them to ‘walk’ around the virtual home without using the Oculus software.

Be sure to check out our next installment in our Virtual Reality Series: VR vs. AR.

About The Author

Michael Black is a staff writer and content coordinator at TecHome Builder. He has a particular interest in new solar developments and smart energy systems and is always looking for the next smart home trend to cover. As the youngest member of the TecHome team, Michael brings a passion that keeps the team energized. He also is instrumental in leading our social media efforts.

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