I recently took a trip to the Silicon Valley of Sweden, a city called Linkoping, which is about two hours south of Stockholm. The reason for this Nordic excursion came about when I spotted a post from a company specialising in augmented reality (AR). Now, if you hear the term AR, you may immediately jump to an image in your head of the film Iron Man.
How does this apply to social housing? For those of you who are unclear about AR, it’s the technology that expands our physical world, adding layers of digital information onto it. AR uses a view of the physical real-world environment with superimposed computer-generated images, not merely as simple displays of data, but by making them integral elements of the surroundings which are perceived as natural extensions of that environment. There are some very interesting applications of this type of AR emerging in housing and property development.
For example, Cher Lewney, Flintshire County Council’s digital strategy and community resilience programme manager, recently explained that she’s been talking to a local authority who were looking at using AR in housing sales to model new types of housing. They are linking data to understand the local economic impact (employment, schools, GPs, transport and so on) of building new homes on Site A versus Site B.
AR in housing isn’t particularly new. I remember doing a presentation at a housing conference in 2014 where I showed how the Halifax bank was using AR in its customer app for house buying and mortgages. I remember that this app sparked a lot of thoughts around how overlaying information via the camera of a smartphone could prove useful for social housing professionals.
I’ve been interested in AR and its applications in housing since doing my MSc degree a few years ago. At the time, I was looking at ‘wearable tech’ and the applications of AR around the same time that Google Glass was being introduced (for the first time).
Obviously, time has marched on and the dominant piece of technology in use today is still the smart phone. Therefore, when I spotted a post on LinkedIn from a company called XMReality based in Sweden talking about AR in field maintenance, my interest was immediately piqued.
I contacted them and after a lengthy Skype call and a small play with the software, both they and our company DtL Creative, felt it would be useful for us to visit them in Linkoping, Sweden. So it was after a very early start in the small hours of a chilly Wednesday that found DtL Creative flying out to an even snowier and chillier Sweden.
XMReality is based in a city called Linkoping, which our host told us is the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Sweden. It’s a technology hub and centre of excellence for a wide range of industrial and military technologies, attracting the best and brightest of Sweden’s tech geeks.
Dave Loudon and I spent a very interesting afternoon talking about social housing and how emerging tech is beginning to be embraced by innovative housing providers. It was then the turn of XMReality to show us what remote guidance could do.
I was initially struck by the simplicity of the application. Essentially, it allows you to see what your customers see through your mobile device and use your hand to point out, explain and solve any problems without you being there in person.
As the demonstration went on, I was furiously taking notes on how it could be used in social housing. I spotted its potential relevance to customer service and supported housing as well as the obvious uses for repairs, maintenance and asset management.
In its most basic form, its simple peer-to-peer use of a smartphone and its camera means that it can be picked up and used with very little set up and its user experience is familiar to all of us with current smartphones.
This type of AR has an exciting future. It’s already being used by some household brands such as Siemens, GE and Electrolux. It’s simple to use, powerful and it just works!
Over the coming months DtL Creative and XMReality will be working with social housing providers to explore this technology further. We have some ideas, but it’s getting ideas from the everyday users in housing that will forge this technology into something that I think could radically transform how housing providers interact with their tenants.
We’d love to know your thoughts so look out for opportunities over the coming months to get involved.
Stewart Davison is the director of innovation at DtL Creative.