Re-posting from an interview with SpatialFirst CEO Emily Olman in The Registry:

TechView: PDFs Are Out and Visual Mapping Is In as SpatialFirst Launches New Technology in Oakland By Meghan Hall

March 10, 2020

Augmented and virtual reality programs have made a splash in the commercial real estate industry as of late, helping brokers and tenants alike visualize an oGce’s potential before committing to a leasing agreement. Such technologies are considered an important stride forward in an industry that is increasingly learning to favor Jexibility. SpatialFirst, a foundational technology company, just launched PlaceTime, a mobile application designed to help those in the commercial real estate industry evaluate tenant improvement projects and build-outs. The Registry spoke with SpatialTime’s Co-Founder and CEO, Emily Olman, on the impact the company hopes to make on the industry.

Emily Olman, Co-Founder of SpatialFirst

Emily, can you please tell The Registry a little bit about SpatialFirst? As a >rm, what pain points are you seeing within the commercial real estate industry that you believe SpatialFirst can work to solve?

SpatialFirst is an early stage Bay Area proptech startup that was founded when two entrepreneurs with a background in real estate marketing, Emily Olman (Hopscotch Interactive and Matterport Service Partner), and mapping Bart Denny (Ex-Google Maps, WRLD3D), both found themselves wanting to help property marketers and leasing reps communicate better about spaces with more intuitive 3D tools. We also saw a looming disruption with augmented reality poised to forever change the world around us by “painting the world with data,” as Forbes writer Charlie Fink put it. We saw that there was no way for landlords to participate in what was coming, nor to claim and make oGcial their building’s digital twin on any map, so we saw a path forward that begins with a leasing solution, and evolves into an important piece of infrastructure in the coming era of spatial computing for real estate.During the leasing phase, SpatialFirst offers an immersive alternative to the current tools being used to communicate about place such as PDFs, brochures and 2D space plans, with our immersive mobile property visualization application called PlaceTime.

For the leasing broker who only has these low-tech tools, it can be hard to stand out because everyone is using the same thing and faces the same limitations. So, with our combined experiences in CRE and overlap in the VR/AR world and mobile app development, we saw an opportunity to create a new mobile platform for storytelling for property and location. The platform can give anyone the tools to perform better whenever they need to tell a story about a place, and enables property owners to begin to think about the value of owning and enabling a digital twin of their property for use throughout the lifecycle of the building. We make it much easier to visualize something that does not exist yet, and we can add augmentations to cold shell spaces or we can make it possible to experience a property remotely or in situ in a new way. By building a mobile digital twin in the PlaceTime app, we ease the pain in all of these scenarios, help with shortening the leasing cycle and can build an asset that will be valuable for the landlord far into the future by starting with a fundamental building block of the digital twin.

Why did SpatialFirst pursue an application like PlaceTime as its first product?

We pursued building PlaceTime because it was initially something that we wanted for ourselves, and we had early customers asking for new ways to tour with hypothetical fit-outs, so we spent months prototyping the application and solving some pretty challenging issues, like steaming large 3D models in realtime to a smartphone and geospatially indexing digital assets. We see the digital twin as the inevitable future operating system for all buildings and cities, so we felt particularly well-suited to bring our vision for a 3D storytelling platform to life to pioneer the technology as independent developers and build the interface to this new operating system. We also knew that most AR companies were looking only at placing augmentations like “stickers” on the world and were very convinced from early on that diGculty in understanding a space was a spatial problem, and it needed a spatial approach. We also pursued mobile as our launch hardware (currently available on iOS), because mobile AR technology has arrived at a inflection point where there is backwards compatibility with all current generation smartphones (there are already 1.4 billion AR enabled smartphones in the world), as well as exciting developments with more powerful devices on the horizon, including wearable devices like Apple glasses, so we wanted to build towards that future of ubiquitous spatial computing.

The Bay Area is a dynamic and rapidly changing environment when it comes to its commercial real estate industry. From your perspective, what is your current perception of the Bay Area office market? Why?

The Bay Area and its submarkets are so complex! Brokerages and landlords that are able to adapt to a new generation of tenants with different values are going to have big advantages. If you look at what happened with WeWork in 2019, or look at the impact that mandatory telecommuting will have on the way that companies rethink oGce leases in response to outbreaks like the Coronavirus, we must embrace that demographics and psychographics are changing here rapidly, and both our location and the dynamic nature of life in the Bay Area should be reJected in the way that we lease and operate space. Tech clients have their own unique needs, and I think over the next \ve years, there are a lot of building owners who are going to feel the pressure to compete with newer, more tech-enabled inventory and will be looking for smart, efficient ways to do that while not breaking the bank on capital expenditures.

Why did SpatialFirst select the Oakland submarket in which to launch PlaceTime?

We saw a great opportunity to launch PlaceTime Oakland, because we felt that having a critical mass of CRE properties in the app was achievable. The skyline of Oakland will be dramatically changing over the next few years and it is an exciting time to tell Oakland’s story. Oakland is also the top submarket for office absorption in the region according to a Q4 2019 report by Kidder Matthews. Oakland pride is a thing too, and we felt like if we could be successful in capturing some of the essence of how cool it is in Oakland, a city with so much development entitled over the next few years, and with so many thousands of new housing units coming-in, we felt like we had an opportunity to be a part of building something tech-forward, local, and valuable in our own backyard, while maintaining a creative approach to solving real problems. We’ve had great reception from the brokerage community there, but we are still looking at ways that the app can provide value to other stakeholders in the area, including local retailers and local amenities.

What markets will PlaceTime look to target next?

We are looking at the greater Bay Area, Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix, for example, but we have not \xed a second launch target yet. Our digital city models features most of North America and Western Europe, so for us, if clients outside of the area want to be featured in the app, it’s not a problem for us to include other portfolio locations and deliver a “common operating picture” of all of their properties. We are looking for PlaceTime Oakland, however, to be a model city deployment that enables us to show others how we were able to make a big difference.

Why does the firm consider these submarkets a healthy place in which to grow?

From the research that we’ve done, we see a lot of potential in places where there is a lot of inventory and brokers are competing more fiercely for tenants. We have heard from brokers all around the country about the amenities arms race, and we are excited to offer them something that doesn’t require a single building permit.

How has PlaceTime been received by the brokerage community?

It’s been similar to other technology adoption, there are some brokers who we would categorize as early adopters, and they are tech enthusiasts who are excited to be amongst the \rst to have it and try it. We are really excited when we get to share it with them, because there is a bit of co-creation that happens with those brokers. Some folks in the area remember VTS just when they were getting started, and we get compared to them sometimes. We have the advantage of being able to make hypothetical \t-outs into AR walkthroughs in just a few days, so the turnaround time is fast, and when it all comes together folks are pretty impressed. Not everyone is as comfortable with new tech, but when asked, they all say that if there are better tools to save them time and help them be more eGcient, they all say that they want that and would be motivated to use them.

Silicon Valley is not just a hot real estate market, but a market where proptech and innovation has quickly found its roots. How does SpatialFirst plan on differentiating PlaceTime from other office-oriented augmented reality tech currently coming to market?

I have been dedicated to working on solving distance-selling and the ability to bring the essence of a place to my clients for many years. Augmented reality solutions that are on the market today are largely focused on just placing content in the scene but without true spatial awareness of the location. The last thing that we want is an expensive, one-time use asset for visualization, but no reason to use it afterwards.

This is what gives people flashbacks to the expensive, very low-fidelity bad experiences they had perhaps with early 90’s VR or 360° caves. There are some use- cases where a tethered (connected to a PC), high-end visualization is useful, but they aren’t scalable, and while it’s improved significantly in the last couple of years, you still have to be pretty motivated to have that VR experience given the set-up and the form factor. We really think that the overall strategy for us to look beyond the visualization (like what an architect can already do), is our sweet spot. Rather, we are a platform that enables the client to tell the story about place and to invest in their building’s digital twin, something that in the near future will be very, very valuable.

What are some of the biggest challenges to developing proptech in this market? How is SpatialFirst working to overcome these hurdles?

Some of the biggest challenges are not unique to the Bay Area; they are universal to emerging technology development because it’s diGcult to get people to move away from the status quo. Commercial real estate is notorious for having a glacial rate of adoption of new technology, so “proptech” is no different in that regard. Furthermore, it still has a bit of jargon-y buzzwordiness that lends itself to confusion. This is unavoidable, but is still a bit challenging. We are overcoming these hurdles by talking to a lot of different people – brokers, REITS, vendors, economic development departments, and also forward-looking investors, etc. There is an education process that accompanies innovation, so we spend a lot of time out in front of clients and talking to them to try to learn where they are at, and how we can make them comfortable with smaller engagements to try things out and learn together what works.

We are fortunate to have the support of some really great folks in the industry such as Realcomm/CoRETech, DisruptCRE, CRePN, Berkeley SkyDeck Accelerator, WXR Venture Fund Accelerator, numerous advisors and champions, and the incredible encouragement we get from these folks helps us overcome a lot of hurdles and establish credibility for what we are trying to do.

After PlaceTime, does SpatialFirst have plans to pursue any new platforms? If so, how do you think that initiative will impact the market?

The PlaceTime application is going to continue to evolve, and initially it is being used for leasing and property marketing, but it will evolve into a much more robust spatial utility for the property owner and its tenants: the interface layer to the digital information that all landlords will be providing to their tenants, visitors, and facilities operations. We believe that in just a few years time, the demand for spatially aware services (location-based amenities) will surge, and so we are already thinking about what it could look like to have signi\cant location-based offerings and partnerships. And, when we are ready to shift from a mobile to a wearable interface, then PlaceTime will already have been built to port to future hardware.

Is there anything you would like to add that The Registry did not ask or mention?

Well, I would like to give a big shout out to my friends and colleagues at the Commercial Real Estate Professionals Network (CRePN), both the San Rafael chapter and my home chapter in San Francisco. I am really grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of that organization, and to bring my VR/AR/Proptech expertise to the group. With their overwhelming support, I am excited to be planning our spring mixer which will be an evening exploring emerging tech for CRE on April 22nd at K&L Gates. I am sure that the event will be oversubscribed, because we have great speakers, and plan to have relevant demos of several technologies including PlaceTime, but also Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap to showcase a handful of the really transformative immersive technologies that are bene\cial to CRE, including VR telepresence. So, I continue to enjoy wearing the hat of the XR Evangelist to the Bay Area’s commercial real estate community and bringing our technology and expertise into the hands of folks who did not know how to get started, but can see the value for their work as soon as they try it for themselves.

Updated: Jan 28

This is the first of a four-part series that explains what we mean by the Interface for Place.

We'll break down the 4 component pieces that come together within our PlaceTime app, and how that helps the real estate industry operate more efficiently.

PlaceTime's Interface for Place

PlaceTime's 3D city models allow owners and operators of places come claim their place - we help them put in place a more detailed, more useful map of their property.

This so-called Digital Twin is a collection of 3D models that represent the physical structure, AND real-time and historical data. It serves as a dynamic blank canvas, bringing together critical operations data. The Digital Twin is used to create a whole range of property animations, graphics and virtual tour experiences - able to immerse a user as they explore a location from the city level down to inspecting minute details of a construction project.

Our Interface for Place has a very simple value proposition to anyone who uses it - find stuff faster, better understand what’s going on in particular place, and take full control over the physical environment around you. This map is embedded with services - point your phone at the world around you "in situ", or view the same interface using the digital twin to provide that "virtual" experience to someone elsewhere.

The Interface for Place turns your phone into a magic wand - simply point at things around you, seeing a digital interface anchored to the physical world. Cold, hungry, need something? Here’s the info & curated links that help you get the most out of this place. This same digital interface layer to a place is also available remotely, using the place’s Digital Twin to enable virtual visits, down to walking around place in 1:1 “room scale” immersion.

The importance of one-handedness

An early design goal for our spatial interface placed primary importance of delivering a 3D map experience that requires only one hand for spatial navigation.

Users overwhelming vote for apps that make one-handed usage the default, accounting for a huge percentage of our mobile phone usage. Browse through the design patterns here to see great examples of mobile apps that design for this. Of course it's an accessibility issue, but it's one faced by just about every human in the normal course of the day, being able to only devote one hand to their phone.

Video features the one-handed navigation in PlaceTime.

Today’s mapping applications are nearly impossible to use with only one hand - relying on two-handed gestures such as pinch to zoom, or rotation for any extended spatial exploration requires both hands - one to hold the phone and the other to use these multi-touch gestures. Today's mobile maps are amazing utilities - they have utterly transformed where we go, the way we get around, and how we coordinate with others. The US government has estimated the loss of these core spatial utilities would result in economic loss of $1B dollars per day!

PlaceTime uses Augmented Reality’s 6 Degrees of Freedom (“6DoF”) input, along with an on-screen joystick, to let users zip around the city, dive in and walk around places effortlessly with one hand. It's sorta a flight simulator in that regard - making it easier to explore a place, and getting a better understanding of what that place can offer them.

That flying experience is complimented by a "roomscale walkthrough" of 3D models. Using Augmented Reality to walk around inside the space as if you were there, our customers bring a new level of engagement and immersion into their marketing, storytelling and leasing of great spaces. We're starting first with our hometown of Oakland.

We’d be thrilled to get your thoughts on the experience - spatial interfaces are still in their infancy, but we think we've got a compelling mobile app for property storytelling. Sign up for our Oakland PlaceTime beta here - and drop us a line with your thoughts!

Next post, we will look at deeper into the Digital Twin, and the role it will play in managing properties in the future.

  • Bart Denny

SpatialFirst is happy to announce the beta launch of PlaceTime Oakland - a new way to explore and tour property from your mobile phone.

We’ve worked with Oakland office developers and brokers to bring rich, interactive 3D exploration to iPhones and iPads. PlaceTime uses Augmented Reality to enable walking through space in a true 1:1 scale, or to take a flyby tour of local amenities. It’s fully interactive and 3D, allowing users to explore and immerse on their own.

PlaceTime Oakland’s 3D city map is open to anyone who wants to tell stories about their places. We’re making it easy to those who own, manage or occupy a place to create a 3D Digital Twin of their space, and use that at the heart of their 3D storytelling. Based on the Unity game engine, PlaceTime delivers property animations and graphics that are the envy of HGTV - and fully interactive.

Brokers use PlaceTime to improve the first impressions of a property - and is a powerful upgrade when a space is shell and core, in need of reno, or does not yet exist. PlaceTime partners create the key 3D digital assets needed to represent a property. We work with Matterport Service providers, architects, 3D artists and all manner of photogrammetrist, making it easy to bring in the right type and quality of 3D representation to best suit the needs of your project.

Our customers own these models - we just make it easy to view all of them in context. We’re moving rapidly into an age of ubiquitous 3D mobile capture - and we know that building owners will want (need) to own this, and be able to instantly share context about Place and Time.

Once the Digital Twin infrastructure is in place, we use the models to deliver virtual tours, amenities flythroughs, and neighborhood highlights . We’re working to make these tours customizable, and easily sharable; we’re really excited to soon build a “live follow” mode which will let you lead people through spaces in a shared PlaceTime session.

Coming out of beta

We’ve learned a lot in the last few months from our beta testers - once they get familiar with flying around in PlaceTime, they love flying around these scenes to get access to the critical information they need to do their jobs.

PlaceTime’s spatial organization of real estate data puts the right brochures, notes, or contacts at their fingertips, right where they expect it, attached to the relevant place. Deep Links, placed into space - it’s like the entire world is now a dynamic QR code, and PlaceTime tools will make it easier and easier to place all sorts of content from your phone into your spaces and places.

The launch of PlaceTime Oakland brings with it a new interactive introductory experience - we’re teaching users how to fly, hover and walk through Oakland while taking them on a tour of some iconic city street art, captured in 3D using the mobile phone app After trying it yourself, send us the link - we’d like to feature new Oakland scans every week.

We’re aiming to launch a public version of PlaceTime this spring, but in the meantime are now opening up our beta test to the general public.

Sign up here to get access

We’d love any feedback, and are keen to hear what types of stories Oaklanders want to tell about their places.