[Editor’s note: Originally published on Proptech Consulting.]

The past few years have been a case study in finding creative solutions to unpredictable situations. The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted global market conditions for every industry segment. Due to the fundamental need for shelter, employment, production and storage, the real estate sector has been at the forefront of these changes. The constraints of the pandemic have forced key players to adapt and rethink their strategy in order to survive and hopefully prosper.

For example, an important advance is the acceleration and implementation of 3D technology for the commercial and residential real estate sectors. In digital spaces, access to 3D information improves decision-making by simulating a high-resolution panoramic walkthrough and enabling interactivity.

Until recently, the real estate industry relied on specialized 3D recording equipment to create interactive maps and develop compelling digital experiences. This was mainly due to the specialized nature of this technology and the skills needed to capture 3D information. Advances in 3D recording technology are rapidly changing the landscape with accessible 3D recording options.

Mobile 3D scanning
3D scanning has emerged as a transformative force in the real estate sector with the growth of sensing sensors on smartphones. An important step in this growth is the introduction of the LiDAR sensors in Apple devices. Operating at nanosecond speeds, LiDAR is a pulsed laser that generates a 3D model with greater accuracy than a simple camera alone. Now a standard feature in iPhone Pro and iPad devices, sensor inclusion paves the way for enhanced 3D capture for users.

Before exploring the possibilities offered by 3D recording tools for smartphones, let’s first take a look at the existing 3D scanning tools available in the market.

High-precision LiDAR scanner equipment
High Precision LiDAR scanner equipment is conventionally used for accurate 3D scanning for commercial purposes. This category of capture equipment is considered ‘high-end’ due to the costs associated with the capture process. Usually these devices produce a point cloud and some also take 360 ​​photos. The use case for these devices focuses on precision.

Leica, NavVis, Riegl, FARO, trimble, Artec, and so on.


Specialized own solutions (middle class)
This segment includes proprietary solutions developed by third-party companies to capture spaces and objects with 3D data. Matterport is the industry leader in floor plan scanning and creating virtual tours for users.

Matter gate, occipital structure, Intel RealSense (sunset from late 2021), REScan

Photogrammetry / Structure-out-motion
This 3D capture pipeline involves processing many photos and videos into 3D geometries, based on a three-dimensional coordinate measurement technique. These photos can be taken with UAVs/drones or robots and then post-processed on a desktop. While anyone can take basic shots, achieving the best results on a large scale requires specialized expertise and techniques such as ground checkpoints (GCP).

pix4d, DroneDeploy, RealityCapture, Autodesk ReCap Pro, Agisoft Metashape

360 panoramas / videos
The easiest way to capture 3D information is to use an app for an Android or iOS device or a stereoscopic 3D lens on a DSLR camera. This practice is currently used in industry for everything from virtual tours to construction monitoring. Usually, the panoramas are attached to floor plans, but they don’t have 3D data themselves.

ricoh360, GoPro MAX, Vuze

Mobile LiDAR/Depth Recording
Apple was one of the first smartphone manufacturers to use LiDAR on its devices, introducing it on the 2020 iPad Pro and then mounting it on the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max to improve camera functionality and amplify augmented reality (AR) applications. While it may not be as accurate as a High-Precision LiDAR device, its portability, cost, and ease of use make it ideal for many situations. Users can quickly capture spaces for reference, create floor plans, measure dimensions, and share 3D information.

3D Scanner App, PolyCam, SiteScape, Scaniverse, EveryPoint

A quick comparison of technologies / solutions:

Real Estate Workflow and Mobile LiDAR
In this section, we are going to discuss how LiDAR for mobile phones affects:

  • Sales and Marketing
  • Property management
  • Architectural Design
  • Build
  • Facility management and maintenance

Industry usage situation
3D scanning technology is used to improve data capture and implementation. This is how the process works:

  1. Capture and Process – Capture and process 3D information into a 3D model.
  2. View and share/publish – Rendering of the 3D model on software or the web
  3. Interaction and maintenance – Evidence of interaction (i.e. measuring, assets, etc.) and maintaining the state of the 3D information in dynamic environments (i.e. construction sites, etc.)

Sales and Marketing
Potential clients rely on a comprehensive visual view of the property to help them make decisions. Photos, videos and floor plans are critical elements of commercial and residential real estate marketing because they give clients a realistic overview of the property. Virtual home tours allow clients to have a comprehensive visual reference of the property from all angles. These tours have become a standard part of corporate digital experiences, including: Zillow 3D Home® Tours, VPiX, Beer Property, etc. Now Mobile LiDAR makes capturing and sharing 3D information even easier. A user can scan a location, convert it to maps and add photos and video to specific locations.

Architectural Design
Architecture and design were one of the first industries to adopt 3D from 3D building plans and renderings. But now 3D is an integral part in even more ways, such as: Digital Twin and BIM (building information modeling). Mobile 3D scans are used to capture spaces and represent concepts and options with Digital Twins in AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality).

In construction, 3D models and information are now a critical part of surveys, BIMs, plans and estimates. Construction management software (Procore, Building trend, AutoDesk PlanGrid, etc.) includes 3D assets, and some solutions are even more focused on image and 3D information processing (cupix, Open space, Prevu3D, and so on.). In the construction industry, mobile 3D scanning works in tandem with high-precision LiDAR and photogrammetry, where scans can be expanded to reference highly accurate point clouds and continuously updated.

Real Estate / Facility Management
While it may have been underestimated in the past, 3D information is increasingly being used for insurance, relocations and relocations of documentation, inventory and assets. The ability to create scans that allow machine learning processes to analyze conditions (i.e. damage, etc.) streamlines existing workflows and paves the way for improved analysis.

The verdict
The evolution of 3D scanning technology opens doors to an enhanced personalized experience in the digital real estate industry. The marriage of machine learning with improved data collection simplifies data usage and provides a much more affordable alternative, thanks to improved data collection. The need for this data collection is supported by the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, which have paved the way for an online experience to serve as the primary platform for customer engagement.

The advancements in detection sensors lead the way for navigable high-resolution scanning and 3D detection. For technology companies, this development is a step forward towards the next-generation in-home experience, where consumer data is central.

While technical standards can compromise the quality and accuracy of some consumer-generated 3D data, it still serves as an invaluable resource in estimating and evaluating 3D digital experiences. With advancements in smartphone technology and accessible sensors, we can expect mobile scans to become the primary source of 3D data in the digital real estate sector with consumer-based virtual experiences. Hardware improvements are further enhanced by advanced machine learning algorithms and will undoubtedly deliver even more accurate spatial analysis.