What’s the latest rage in real estate virtual tours? Simple: 3-D. The technology that started out with simple renderings has evolved into a fully interactive space built on photos. And now, the future of 3-D tours is being played out with holograms you can actually touch. You’re not dreaming; the holodeck from “Star Trek” is coming soon to a real estate office near you.

Give me my holodeck!

Several vendors offer interactive ability in their 3-D tours. Users can change flooring type and wall color, or even place furniture. These features are turning the notion of a virtual tour into something truly useful. It’s easy to sit down with a client, walk through a home and start to make the house look the way they would like. That value proposition is already compelling enough to get the attention of major brokers around the country.

Now, scientists have developed “haptic feedback,” which uses sound waves in holograms to create the feeling of various textures. The technology debuted at SIGGRAPH on Dec. 3, 2014. Sensors track when a user’s hand comes into contact with the hologram. Then a network of small speakers transmit ultrasonic sound waves that create a sensation of touch as the user interacts with the object.

This technology brings a new dimension of interaction to virtual reality and the whole concept of “seeing” a home without once stepping inside. Existing tours all cover the visual aspect quite well, but the sensation of touch has immense potential to enhance that user experience.

The feeling of a 3-D tour

Whenever consumers tour real homes, they often touch surfaces such as granite counters, wood trim and ornate ironwork. The tactile sensations reinforce the beauty of the space and the appeal that those features offer the client. When they see something they like and then feel it, the memory is reinforced. That can create a bond to the home and thus play a role in their decision to purchase (or not).

Haptic feedback could bring that connection to the virtual world. Imagine touring a home from your office, complete with holographic projections, and then being able to reach out and touch a feature that catches your eye. For the homes where the user is already visually engaged, the feelings could make a real visit and purchase decision much more plausible.

Some textures I see consumers seeking in their experiences include:

  • Stonework (walls or countertops)
  • Ironwork (railings, doors and more)
  • Woodwork (casings, molding, built-in fixtures and more)
  • Walls — especially those with distinctive textures

I’ve been in homes with stonework on the walls that made a room feel like a castle. It’s rare, and touching the stone is a part of my vivid memory of the room and the home. Imagine being able to feel fine woodwork and the craftsmanship in a rough Tuscan textured wall!

Holograms or holodeck?

This interactive technology requires holograms that are well beyond the 3-D virtual tours we’re using today. Does this haptic feedback technology have to come from an immersive experience like an expansive holodeck, or could it be just as useful in a smaller hologram?

The implementation right now is just in a small hologram that could eventually take the form of samples of objects — a piece of trim or section of wall. That way the consumer could get the feeling without being immersed in a virtual reality world. The initial products will likely be small. We’ll have to see if that’s enough for consumers or if they want more.

Keep an eye on this technology. It’ll become a part of this industry one way or another sooner than you think.

Bryan Robertson is the co-founder and managing broker of Catarra Real Estate.

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