SINGAPORE: With virtual reality (VR) technology, one can walk into a new mall, home or office space that has not been built yet.
Developers are increasingly using such technology to help market new properties. Lendlease, for instance, is using a three-dimensional modelling platform to help visualise its upcoming precinct, Paya Lebar Quarter.
"We needed to have a mechanism that would show people what it would be like to actually be in the precinct," said Paya Lebar Quarter managing director Richard Paine. "We wanted to create this immersive environment so that people can visualise that."
Comparing VR to traditional marketing methods, Mr Paine said that the newer technology has an edge, especially amongst younger consumers.
"If you have models, it’s very much a bird’s eye view. It’s not putting you in the space," he said. "We still have models, traditional marketing collateral like brochures and videos and the like."
"But increasingly the younger generation - millennials - they’re so used to advanced technology to do things … Honestly over time models will probably disappear - we’ll probably be seeing less of that and more emphasis on the actual VR technology."
The developer has also branched out to use VR in its construction phase, with construction site teams - including architects, project managers and structural engineers - making use of the technology for planning and execution purposes. It also plans to use VR to manage its facilities when precinct fully opens in 2019.
Another developer that has been using VR is CapitaLand, which launched an immersive VR simulation studio as part of its Funan show suite.
This includes a five-wall projection system, allowing visitors to explore and visualise the interior of Funan mall in 3D, when it opens in 2019.
INVESTING IN VIRTUAL REALITY: WORTH THE COST?
However, adopting such technology can be costly. While Lendlease declined to reveal how much it invested in its VR platform, the rendering of its 3.9-hectare precinct - or the creation of its architectural design - took six months. These are resources smaller firms may not have.
According to a report by McKinsey & Company, the construction industry is among the least digitised in the world, lagging behind other sectors in adopting new methods and technology.
"(Construction is) a fairly fragmented and complex space," said McKinsey & Company partner Mukund Sridhar, who leads the infrastructure practice in Southeast Asia. "The return of investment on these technologies is often hard to prove … because it’s hard to quantify the benefits of this technology, especially when you’re looking at it from the lens of a single project alone."
"Construction professionals will tell you that construction is complex - no project is alike," he said. "So it’s a challenge of scaling it up across different projects and ensuring that this technology can be customised and applied across different kinds of projects."
To help drive the adoption of these new technologies, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) set up a Construction Productivity and Capability Fund to help offset the costs involved.
As of end 2016, approximately S$450 million out of about $800 million has been disbursed to more than 9,000 firms.
This includes incentive schemes focusing on workforce development, technology adoption and capability development, such as the Building Information Modelling (BIM) Fund, which supports technologies including VR.
It also opened a Centre for Lean and Virtual Construction at the BCA Academy in 2015, as a platform for firms and schools to try out these new tools, as well as for training purposes.
One such school that uses the facility is the Singapore Institute of Technology, which teaches a module incorporating virtual reality, as part of its Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering (Building Services) degree programme.
"There is a stigma in our industry that building industry is something that’s dirty, dusty, not comfortable and so on," said assistant professor Steve Kardinal Jusuf. "Actually using this kind of technology helps to cut down the construction period on site, so it means that it becomes more time efficient and less problematic."
"And the young generation itself can be more interested because the technology helps them to work and visualise it better, as compared to traditional methods," he added.
Mr Sridhar agreed: "We see a lot of interest from construction companies, contractors, design architectural firms as well, who are interested in trying out these technologies."
"Hopefully with sustained investment and a push from regulators and other authorities to improve productivity, we should see adoption improve," he said.
So far, around 1,900 visitors from government agencies, built environment firms, schools and overseas delegates have visited the centre.