Four mind-blowing future real estate technology changes

home-curve-01
April 7, 2016
16
min read

‘Mind-blowing’ is a pretty strong word – but I chose to use it for good reason. Here we are, circa only a few decades from a time when we revered sliced bread as the greatest invention to ever grace humanity, and suddenly the ‘distant’ future is just around the corner. By 2020, things are going to be very different for real estate technology. Mind-blowingly different. Forget VR and drones - this is future real estate technology.

Future real estate technology

Etherised by our existing technological genius, we think we’ve seen it all. Nothing fazes us. I barely blink when Siri dutifully answers my questions. 3D printers are old hat. Virtual reality was bound to happen eventually. Who cares if we can put the computational power of the Apollo 11 into a smart-watch?But now, thanks to Moore’s Law, cloud computing and the ridiculous pay grade of Silicon Valley engineers – we’re standing with one foot in the door of the next revolution. We’re moving away from mere consumer electronics, and onto a much larger scale of innovation.Your house is set to become a computer in itself. Neighbourhoods will generate and share their own power on microgrids. Entire cities will monitor themselves. It’s a big, bright future for real estate technology - and as real estate professionals, we need to keep up.

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Sensors

Only one hundred years after the Pony Express delivered its first letter, Roy Tomlinson sent and received the world’s first email through the time’s rudimentary Internet. Considering how quickly we started using electrons instead of hay to power our communications system, this in itself is a mammoth feat.But did we stop there? Neigh. (I apologise for the bad pun). Now the Internet allows us to send pictures and video, check Facebook, call taxis, watch movies, go shopping and talk face to face with someone on the other side of the planet. You’d think we’d be satisfied by now.Evidently not.The Internet is just gearing up. The next step isn’t the next smash-hit phone app – it’s tiny, underwhelming sensors. Billions of them.A home buyer’s primary concern isn’t necessarily always going to be the house in question. It’s the surrounding environmental factors that often make or break a sale. Neighbours, traffic, pollution - these are all just as important as the formica tabletops and patio. So how do we make this kind of information available?Over the next four years, you’ll be seeing more and more sensors installed in just about everything. We won’t be imagining anymore – it’ll all be reality. The more sensors we have gathering, evaluating and sending data to the cloud, the more opportunities for applications most of us can’t even fathom yet.We all know about how headsets or smart-watches can talk to our phones and computers. But what if our home appliances joined in on the conversation as well? What if all the instruments and machinery in a factory, hospital or airport could start talking and working together without our input? What if entire cities could monitor themselves?

The Array of Things

A team of researchers, universities and the Argonne National Laboratory have come together to make that last one a reality. It’s an ambitious (but entirely possible) plan named the ‘Array of Things. They plan to deck the entire city of Chicago out with sensor nodes. Before you scream ‘1984’ – these nodes aren’t after anything that could threaten anyone’s privacy. They’re basically weather stations on steroids - measuring temperature, barometric pressure, noise pollution, regular ol’ pollution, traffic, light intensity and vibrations to put together a picture of what’s going on around them.Why? The data will be made available for anyone and everyone to access in its rawest form, giving independent and commissioned developers the tools to make apps that can do just about anything you can do with several thousand fingers on the pulse of the city. As we speak, an app is being developed that shows you the least polluted route to your destination. Imagine checking this before walking your asthmatic child to school?This data will prove to be of massive benefit in the real estate sector. Imagine being able to open up your map of Melbourne to show your introverted buyers the quietest areas in the city?

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Smart homes and zero UI

These sensors aren’t just designed to sense the environment around the device – they can also sense us (now you can worry about Big Brother). When devices can hear and understand voice commands and gestures - and even foresee our needs before we tell them - will we really need screens and buttons anymore?Wearables are growing in popularity – but they’re not without their faults. Relative to the ever-shrinking size of screens, our fingers are now huge. Clicking open your favourite app on your smartwatch can sometimes feel like removing a splinter with a pair of uncooked sausages as chopsticks. The solution is ‘Zero UI’: the new trend towards a screenless future. Instead, devices will work without us having to peer at a minuscule screen or tap away at a tiny keyboard – and already we’re seeing how this might work with some incredibly exciting new technologies.Google currently has two amazing zero UI projects in the works. It’s not often that something can break past my calloused, millennial, I’ve-seen-it-all attitude and invoke a raised eyebrow - let alone a gasp of astonishment. Project Soli is one of those things.Rather than controlling your device with some fat-fingered smudges across the screen, Google have developed a chip that uses radar to track the sub-millimetre motions of your hand to control electronics. You really do have to see it to believe it. Imagine never having to fuddle about with those impossible string controls for your venetian blinds ever again. Now, with one of these chips, a tiny computer and a motor, we can let in the morning sun like a Jedi.

Furniture as an interface

Google’s other venture, Project Jacquard, is just as mind-blowing (there’s that word again). By weaving conductive fibres into regular old thread, Google have been able to weave touch-sensitive fabrics. That’s right weave. With a loom.The criss-cross pattern in which a loom weaves cloth is identical to the grid in your smartphone’s touch screen – so why not turn your shirt or favourite cushion into an interactive surface?Soon we’ll be simultaneously dimming the lights and putting Marvin Gaye on the stereo with a sensual touch to the curtains. We’ll be changing the television channel by swiping the arms of our couches. Cushions will become remote controls. Tracksuit bottoms will further market themselves to the overweight and dispirited by automatically ordering McDonalds home delivery when the elastic waistband slackens off.We could go on.Zero UI certainly isn’t geared purely towards the devices in our lives. At a macro-level, we might even live inside a zero UI device. Our homes, for instance.

Appliances that get to know you

Ever since 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’ve been simultaneously enthralled and terrified of some super-connected computer-organism taking too much control over our lives. Link up one too many appliances and next thing you know you there’s an army of T-1000s shooting up the place. All the same, there’s been a concerted effort by a handful of companies to make Iron Man’s Jarvis a reality.Nest have created a smart thermostat to save you time and power – oh, and it learns all about you like some digital, climate voyeur. It picks up on your temperature-schedule after a few days, programs itself to suit, and even uses in built motion sensors to turn itself off when you leave the house. Oh yeah, and it’s got control of your lights as well.Did I mention it looks almost exactly the same as HAL 9000?August have created a smart lock that opens when it senses your smartphone nearby. When you approach the door - ‘click’ - it unlocks. Another ‘Click’? That’s the sound of your clever door locking itself behind you.Great Aunt Gertrude has arrived early and you’re at the shops picking up milk? In our draconian past she’d be left out on the stoop in the rain. Now, you can unlock (or lock) your house from anywhere on the planet with an Internet connection with your smartphone. Do not fear the smart lock. It has no reason to keep you hostage in your own pantry.

Your personal AI friend

Now enter the creators of Josh AI. They’ve developed a voice controlled system that allows you to easily control every aspect of your new automated home. Josh can dim the lights, turn on music, show you live video feeds of any given room, control the climate through a Nest integration, lock or unlock any door with an August integration, and do just about anything you ask it to. Plus – since Josh is powered by your smartphone and the cloud, he can do it from anywhere on the planet. Great for keeping an eye on your house on vacation, or scarring your child’s friends for life next time they’re telling ghost stories.Amazon Echo is another great contender in the race for humanity’s favourite robotic companion. Rather than just controlling aspects of your home, this voice controlled speaker tube works with every API Amazon could find to take on just about every problem known to man. You can ask it to read you the news, the weather, recipes, stocks. If you’re going out, it can order you an Uber. If you’re staying in, it can order you a pizza.And as Amazon proudly proclaim on their website: “Use Echo to switch on the lamp before getting out of bed, turn on the fan or space heater while reading in your favorite chair, or dim the lights from the couch to watch a movie—all without lifting a finger.” If ever there was a machine hell-bent on bringing Wall-E, every child’s favourite dystopia, to reality - it’s this thing.

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Renewables

‘Sure, let’s put electronics in everything,’ you say ‘it’s not like we’re already burning through more coal and oil than our delicate planet can survive.’You’re right. If we’re going to be electronaholics, the very least we can do is be functioning electronaholics. Which is why by 2020 we’ll have more sources of renewable energy than you can poke a stick at. Not that you’d have a stick to poke. Sticks are made of carbon and were taxed into non-existence by the Labour government when they rose back into power in 2017.Nature has plenty of forces that we can harness to power our growing collection of electronics. Wind, waves, geothermal heat, great rushing rivers and dams – but perhaps the most promising is the convenient nuclear fusion reactor in the sky.Solar power is taking off. While reasonably expensive to implement, it’s become the go-to option for millions of homes across the globe. And we’re only going to see more of it in the next four years – both large and small scale.And not only is solar good for the environment - it’s good for property values too. Efficiency makes economic sense. Buyers will be willing to fork out more if the house they’re buying comes free of energy bills. In light of that fact, the National Association of Realtors even offers a ‘Green Designation’: a course that trains real estate agents to specialise in ‘net zero’ homes.But the problem with solar power is a lack of real estate. You need panels – lots of them – with a direct view of the sun. Surely there’s a more efficient way.

Super efficient solar

Introducing Rawlemon; spherical solar power.Because the earth is moving around the sun, and solar panels are generally fixed into position, they’re not hugely efficient. That’s where the sphere idea comes from. It can capture sun from all angles, and target it onto a much smaller point. Check it out. The clever tracking device can position the small solar panel anywhere around the sphere – effectively tracking the sun whenever it’s out.Or how about solar shingles? Why not simply replace the tiles on your roof with modular solar panels? Why not try turning our windows themselves into solar panels with a clever electricity generating coating?

Storing sunlight

Now while all these amazing new technologies seem like game-changers in their own right – solar isn’t without its faults. Unlike nuclear, coal or hydro, it turns off at night. If you want to watch the nine-o-clock news, you need a way to store all that sunlight. And we’re not talking about a few nine-volt batteries. If we wanted to transition the entire world’s power generation (including transport, heating, etc) to solar, we need the capacity to store 200,000 gigawatt-hours at any given time.This might seem like a daunting task for most, but not Elon Musk. Elon keeps himself pretty busy working on projects like populating Mars, bringing WiFi to the most remote corners of the Earth and rendering petrol obsolete.But by 2020, it’s undoubtedly his batteries that are going to have the biggest impact. Tesla’s Powerwall is a ‘home battery’. Unlike ones in your remotes, these things have a 6.7kWh capacity and are capable of powering your entire house. Oh, and did I mention that they’re wall mounted pieces of art?Elon knows not all houses are power equal. If you want to run your clothes dryer all night, you’re looking at an average energy requirement of 6.6kWh. Your Powerwall would have just enough charge left for one hour of television. Of course, Tesla have thought about that. These things are modular; you can have up to nine at a time lined up in series. There’s a solution for everybody.Simply hook up as many solar panels onto your roof as you require, and plug in your Powerwall. Your solar panels charge the battery and power your house during the day, then, when fiery ball weighs heavy in the sky and your solar panels are no longer providing you with the electrons you require for your modern, bright life - your battery kicks in. Meanwhile, you can still be hooked up to the grid just in case anything unfortunate happens. Like a particularly cloudy week, snow covering your panels, or the inevitable explosion of the sun in 4-5 billion years.

Microgrids

Even cooler still, in the new age of the sharing economy, small towns can band together to use their collective solar real estate together. The new idea of ‘microgrids’ has been touted as an obvious solution to the ever-climbing cost of electricity in Australia. The current process (which involves burning vast quantities of coal and then piping the resulting energy along enormous reams of thick wire for thousands of kilometres) isn’t quite as efficient, environmentally friendly, or cost-effective for the consumer as, say, this.The plan is to link up small town with their own power supplies. Whether this involves every house and business setting up solar panels and home batteries, or a central power hub that everyone links up to is up you the community in question. Tyalgum, a small town in NSW, is currently working on its plan to be the first Australian town completely self reliant on its own renewable energy sources. Because of their location on the very edge of the grid, they’re the perfect guinea pig for whether or not this could work for more.Like Tyalgum, the remote town of Ravensthorpe in WA is also looking into it’s own mini-grid. Their existing connection is too expensive, and is constantly damaged by storms, leaving them in quite literally in the dark and perpetually out of ice cream. Mini-grids are certainly gaining traction – and the technologies might be a lot closer to our own suburban (and even inner city) lives.Imagine the future of housing estates; where batteries, solar panels and free electricity come included in the purchase price. You pay for your power in the mortgage.

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Responsive architecture - real estate as technology itself

‘Green’ isn’t the only trait that can radically increase a home’s marketability. Architects want to get in on this new technology-revolution just as much as everyone else, and some are taking ‘form follows function’ to a whole new level…Buildings have often thought to be, by definition, static. Caravans, tents and Howl’s Moving Castle – these are the exceptions. So if we’re putting in all this effort to automate the appliances and systems inside our homes, why not our homes themselves as well?Responsive architecture is a new design trend towards buildings that adapt. As early as 1970, blokes like Nicholas Negroponte have been theorising advances in AI and other technologies that will enable the very home you live in to be intelligent in it’s own right. We’re not talking another Josh AI here – we mean the very building itself.Responsive architecture is the automation of moving parts; doors that open themselves, windows that can change their opacity on demand or swing open to let in the fresh air. An entire shape-shifting skyscraper in Dubai is even under construction (scheduled for completion in none other than 2020), which revolves to give residents an ever-changing 360-degree view of their surroundings – from 80 stories up.

Flatpack houses

Acre have developed their own style of responsive house. While not exactly automated, it is a new way of doing things. Their houses are fully solar powered, and full of sensors to ensure you waste as little energy as possible – so they’re responsive in that right. But they’re even smarter than that still…Let’s say you’re looking to buy a house, and you find one you like (but don’t love) in the perfect location. What if that house could be renovated in absolutely no time at all, without costing you an arm and a leg? What if you could order new walls, or simply take others out, with the minimum of effort? Guaranteed sale, and they all lived happily ever after – that’s what.Acre make net-zero, flat-pack houses. The entire thing comes ready for assemble in a single shipping container. You hire a few tradies to come and put them together, and if down the line, the place needs a change, it can be customised. Simply order a new wall and put it in like Lego. Well, it’s not quite that easy, but you get the idea… While these fancy customisable houses and revolving Emirati apartments are cool – they certainly aren’t cheap. Not everyone is going to be able to afford something even remotely like this, and many cities simply don’t have the space.

Really big small spaces

Manila, for example, has the highest population density on Earth: 42,857 people per every square kilometre. You can’t fit that many Acre homes inside the limited Manilese countryside. Other cities, like Tokyo, Beijing, London, Union City, New York and Sydney are facing similar problems: the cost of living is rising alongside the population as cities are becoming more popular places to live. As result, we have to cram more people into the same space for less.The obvious solution is to make apartments smaller – but no-one really wants to live in a shoebox. Luckily, here comes responsive architecture to save the day again.What if your one roomed apartment was actually a bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen – but never at the same time?This is exactly the goal of Morph Lab: use responsive architecture to battle the overpopulation of cities by making a tiny apartment 3X larger. It’s basically the same design methodology as the TARDIS or Mary Poppins’ carpetbag. Imagine if your entire 200 square foot apartment was one massive piece of robotic furniture. What if your bed could fold out of the wall when it’s time to sleep, and be replaced with a desk when it’s time to get to work? Imagine if you could double the size of your bathroom when you need to take a shower, or double the size of your living room if you’re having friends over?Well, with enough sensors and actuators, you can do precisely that:.embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

So, how will this affect our industry in the coming years?

Key takeaways

As homes evolve – so too will real estate marketing. Soon, people will be selecting their new home based on which microgrid it’s a part of or its battery capacity. The home’s integrated systems will be listed in the key property features. The citizens of Chicago will be sussing out their next rental based on the air quality and traffic noise. The citizens of Tokyo will be buying houses with an infinite number of rooms.It’s an exciting, and mind-blowing few years ahead. We didn’t even begin to discuss self-driving cars, virtual reality or Rex’s up-coming Projects Module – but you’ve surely got the idea.Now we’ve finished vomiting three hundred new technologies onto the page, let’s ask the important question. As real estate professionals, what does all this mean for you?Let’s break it down.

  • You’re a property expert. As someone that makes their living knowing everything there is to know about real estate, you need to learn about all these new technologies. Why?
  • These new technologies will affect value and marketability. You’ve probably already had experience selling a listing with solar panels, so you’d know what we’re talking about when we say every little addition increases value. Now imagine selling an apartment with a Rawlemon out the front, or a series of Tesla Powerwalls in the garage?
  • Everything new creates opportunity. Retrofitting a listing with the latest tech will absolutely guarantee that ‘wow’ factor, and an increase in value.

But the most important takeaway of all?

  • Finding your niche of expertise makes you a more interesting agent.

Like NAR’s ‘Green Designation’ certification, you need to find your niche. Why not make it tech? Tech is going to play an increasingly important role in the real estate industry - not just in terms of tools for agents, but as we just illustrated, in the stock you’re selling.Now is the time to act if you want to really knock the socks off of your clients in four years time. The distant future is just around the corner.

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