Tech Talk: Adding life to unbuilt concrete structures with mixed reality

Updated October 27, 2019

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CEO Muhammad Naqi bets on mixed reality to reimagine the world of concrete.
CEO Muhammad Naqi bets on mixed reality to reimagine the world of concrete.

Selling is a pretty tricky job and if one is trying to sell something that does not yet exist, well, it makes everything much more complex. Take a mega construction project, for example, offering a residential complex with multi-storey apartments and commercial area and what not. But how do you show that to a potential customer when it’s still a mere architectural drawing? Bring in augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), the task becomes pretty easy. And that’s exactly what mimAR offers.

An Islamabad based B2B startup, mimAR brings life to the boring world of concrete structures. Using augmented and virtual reality, the startup lets construction companies offer interactive visualisation to its customers. How? With just a smartphone camera, it transforms the paper-based drawing into an AR image, giving you a better idea of how the facility will look like when ready. In case you fancy a more immersive experience, there is the VR option to have a 360 degree view.

There is also an on-site AR option where the customers can visualise the to-be constructed buildings in their actual scale. Imagine standing next to the road and then being able to see a building pop up, how the area would look around it and what’s the exterior like. But when buying property, it’s the interior that usually matters more, no? Don’t worry, they got that front covered as well. Whether you want to imagine where the kitchen will be, or what spot suits best for the TV, mimAR lets you do it all.

For businesses, what’s the process like? The startup just needs the property’s drawing from the builder which is transformed into 3D and then into AR/VR and takes less than a month. To be clear, mimAR doesn’t have an app of its own and their solutions are accessed through the partner’s application.

Currently they have served five clients, including the 60,000-square foot Sky Park One, Gulberg Greens and the 150,000-square foot The Palm apartments in Islamabad, while a few major projects are in the pipeline.

The startup was founded by Muhammad Naqi Ejaz, an architect from National University of Sciences and Technology, who had been working on his portfolio since freshman year and set up a small services company upon graduation last year. That eventually transformed into mimAR, when he developed the tech and launched it this March and joined the National Incubation Centre, Islamabad right after.

While the AR/VR technology has been largely embraced by edtech startups such as the likes of WonderTree and Orbit-ed, its use is still rare in the real-estate sector. Within this space, the only name that comes to mind is that of Retina VR, a Karachi-born startup, which was using virtual reality in real-estate and tourism but discontinued operations a while ago.

On the other hand, a quick peek into the AR/VR construction-related solutions worldwide suggests no big shots, with market largely catered by small players, most seemingly in the US, and no major broad-based product at least.

At the moment, mimAR charges its clients on a per-project basis, with prices ranging between Rs25-100 per square foot (or yards depending on the unit used), but is trying to test out a subscription model as well. Given the large deal values and property sizes exceeding tens of thousands of square feet, the startup has reportedly been able to reach profitability fairly quickly despite having only a handful of clients.

“The tech is already developed so we just have to customise it for each client as per their property while most of our expenses go towards travelling for business development and meeting with clients,” Ejaz explains.

To this day, the upstart has been funded internally and Ejaz has no plans of changing that, at least for the coming six months. How do they plan to scale up then? Might sound outlandish to some, but the answer is organically. “We are currently in talks with builders and housing societies such as Naya Nazimabad in Karachi, the latter of which will get us enough money to reinvest and grow rapidly,” says the CEO. They also won a major competition recently, scoring Rs750,000 in prize money which will help move things for a little while.

The adoption of AR/VR by real-estate players surely offers a great value to end customers, but does the local sector in question even have the appetite for such technology when many still aren’t able to implement even basic digitisation with respect to registration forms?

“They view it as more of a marketing tool which helps them increase their sales, so the solution is appealing. But obviously there is much greater demand beyond Pakistan, which is our next frontier,” shares Ejaz. “We started from Islamabad and in six months expanded to Karachi. Over the next half year, we want to sort out everything with our product and business before setting out in Saudi Arabia, where the construction sector is huge,” he adds.

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2019