Augmented, Immersive, Alternate: What's YOUR Reality?

Key Takeaways

  • Pokemon Go has drawn a lot of attention to the potential of augmented reality, even in commercial real estate.

  • One of the first uses of this tech was in 1998, when football broadcasts added a yellow “first-down” line to the televised image.

  • Explore how this new reality will impact the CRE landscape.


The emergence of Pokemon Go has drawn a lot of attention to the potential of augmented reality and other technologies that seem to blend the real and virtual worlds. These ideas have been floating around for a while, but it looks like practical uses are being found that will have an impact on all of us, beyond gaming. And they take the market by storm. I was out to dinner with my daughters and when we left the restaurant they started chasing the Pokémon and it ended up that there were over 50 kids running around in virtual world. (Some not even looking for cars when crossing the street!)

To understand that impact, we first have to get a handle on what is, for most of us, new terminology. We hear terms like immersive technology, alternate reality, and augmented reality –what do they mean exactly, and how do they differ? And, for our purposes, what do they have to do with CRE?

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality is the magic behind Pokemon Go, and it’s defined as a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

In other words, it adds computer-generated elements to our surroundings. One of the first uses of this technology was seen in 1998, when football broadcasts added a yellow “first-down” line to the televised image.  This added useful information to the picture without interfering with the real elements.

Now AR is being used in all types of industries –healthcare, public safety, gas and oil, tourism and marketing. There are AR apps on your smartphone, like the global positioning system that pinpoints your location. These sorts of applications are being utilized in CRE to improve virtual tours, adding proposed elements to existing properties for a seamless view of possibility. I have always said: tenants have trouble visualizing, which holds up the process of leasing space from being faster. They are only looking for space once or twice in a ten year period, so why should we think they can understand our vision of the building spaces without an accompanying visual.  

Immersive Reality

Immersive reality is often used interchangeably with virtual reality. It’s technology that makes the user feel as if they are actually in a computer-generated environment. First used to create engaging games, immersive reality is also being put to practical use.

An example of immersive reality use that may be familiar is the popular “Escape Rooms” that have popped up in cities around the world. This is a physical adventure in which players are locked in a room and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles and escape within a set time limit. The game may be set in a castle dungeon or a space station – the possibilities are unlimited.

Immersive reality makes it possible to draw the viewer into a given location and provide an interactive experience. In CRE, it’s being used very effectively for property and project tours, with companies like Matterport offering services to bring the imagination to life. Mr. Disney got this right along time ago. He used these type of technologies to make his reality come to life. Buildings have so much opportunity to present a story —if our most valued assets (our tenants) can be made to deal using this concept … It's a no brainer.

Alternate Reality

This is the oldest of the three technologies, and it relies less on changing the appearance of reality. Instead, it changes the meaning or purpose of real world items and locations.  Participants interact online, via mail or smartphone to share ideas about the game. Things move forward in real time, based on the players’ responses.:

An example of this that might be familiar is geocaching. This game takes place in the real world with real objects, but it’s the online interaction that makes it fun. Players use their phone’s GPS to navigate to pre-planted “caches,” so this makes use of augmented reality as well.

-which raises the point that all of these technologies can sometimes blend together.  Knowing what the various names for “reality” mean and how they’re different is useful, but a really essential idea is that they all have very practical, real-world applications.

This is very exciting for our industry. It's becoming affordable and easier to use to create amazing presentations of our assets, to lease space faster, and to add tremendous value to the customer. As I always say: Get on the bus or you will be left in the dust.