RealityCave provides 3D virtual tours before construction is finished

[From Ontario’s The Record]

[Image: Jeff Botham, vice-president of RealityCave, sits in the 3D virtual-reality environment in the Tannery building in downtown Kitchener. Peter Lee/Record staff]

A 3D virtual tour, even before construction is finished

Oct 27 2012
Rose Simone, Record staff

KITCHENER — A hospital is embarking on a major fundraising campaign for a new wing, with construction set to start next year. But potential donors have invitations for a “tour” right now.

A new restaurant is being built in Waterloo. Long before walls go up, the restaurant staff gets a walk-through to make sure the space is functional and efficient.

A large company is planning a move into a new office building. But executives get a preview of what the desks and meeting areas will look like.

A transportation department is planning a new highway. Long before the massive project gets underway, engineers and planners see the road they have in mind.

All of these experiences would, of course, be virtual. Advances in 3D virtual-environment technology like Christie Digital’s cave in the Communitech Hub in downtown Kitchener have made it possible to give people a good sense of what a space will look and feel like, long before it becomes real.

But the cost of buying these room-sized virtual environments runs into the millions of dollars, making it prohibitive for most organizations.

That is changing because a new Kitchener company called RealityCave is introducing the concept of time-sharing to allow users such as developers, architectural firms, government planning and transportation departments, hospitals, libraries and manufacturers to rent the caves.

Companies, institutions and governments buy annual memberships, which range from $1,000 for smaller organizations with up to 200 employees to $5,000 for large corporate and governments clients. They can then rent the cave on an as-needed basis for $1,000 an hour.

RealityCave was started by investors who wanted to bring the cave experiences to a broader audience, says Jeff Botham, the firm’s vice-president. Botham, who has a financial management background and is a contract lecturer in accounting at Wilfrid Laurier University, was brought him on board to commercialize the concept.

“We only started in December of last year, but we already have successfully landed 20 members that represent municipalities, architects, transportation departments, designers and others,” he says.

At the moment, RealityCave is using the cave in the Communitech Hub. The plan is to buy caves for other cities, with Toronto being the next logical place to set up, Botham says. “We are proving out our model in the Kitchener-Waterloo environment but we already have had members signing up from Toronto.”

“The key for us is to establish major partners in various locations,” he says. “In Toronto, for example, we want to have a key anchor partner, whether that is a large developer that would take a bulk of the usage and get a deal on that, or they can buy the cave outright and we would buy back hours that they are not using.”

Other cities RealityCave is looking at include Vancouver, Chicago, New York, London, San Francisco, Dubai, San Paulo, Shanghai and Sydney.

So far, the cave has been used for a number of infrastructure projects. It was recently used for a library building project in Mississauga. The library staff, wearing 3D glasses, walked through the holographic environment and were able to see things that might be an issue, such as bookshelves in children’s area that were obstructing the view of the children. That allowed them to tweak the design, Botham says.

The cave has also been used for planning restaurant space, such as the University of Waterloo Village 1 restaurant makeover. Colleges and universities that are interested in using the cave for research or teaching are also members.

There is interest in the cave from people who do fundraising for hospital expansions. They could use it to show prospective donors “naming opportunities,” Botham says.

He expects that the biggest interest will come from developers and architects who are either selling or bidding on multimillion-dollar residential and commercial real-estate projects. The ability to bring a client into a virtual environment and give them a feel for the space would be a huge boon to these firms. “It might tip the deal in their favour,” Botham says.

The virtual environment is not as detailed as an architectural model, because it requires so much computer power to run the information from 12 projectors. “They can still set up their architectural model and do the full PowerPoint presentation as well, but the same time, people can walk into the cave and get that sense of what it will feel like,” Botham says. “It can be used for prospecting events and to entice new clients.”

Developers who are pre-selling condominiums in buildings that are under construction would be able to give buyers a virtual “walk-through” to visualize different options. “We can see it accelerating the sales process for condo developers and that is a logical space for us to be in,” Botham says.

Over time, the business might offer additional services such as contracting out the creation of 3D models for cave environments. “We have a network of people that we have dealt with and that we know and trust, so we can tender that out,” Botham says.

He says RealityCave is a new type of business made possible because of Communitech and its support.

“We are lucky to be in this Communitech environment where we get exposure to all kinds of people who come into the ecosystem here, and we can take advantage of their services for mentoring and eventually for raising capital.”


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