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University of Auckland property students get a taste of VR

The University of Auckland’s Business School is now using virtual reality (VR) to teach students about construction and leaky homes.

According to the University, VR is revolutionising the property industry, so students in the Introduction to Property course are getting a front row seat.

Students are given Google Cardboard headsets. If you’re not quite sure how they work, the headset looks like a cardboard viewfinder from the 80s and has a place to insert a smartphone. When photos shot with a ‘special’ 360-degree camera and played on a smartphone, they appear in 3D.

The man behind the VR initiative, senior lecturer Dr Michael Rehm, introduced his students to VR by creating a scavenger hunt in which students had to find a toy in a virtual tour of the University’s Business School lecture theatres.

Rehm says VR is the next best thing to being there in person.

“VR will enable students to virtually experience field trips to active construction sites and other high-risk, complex environments that would be impractical to visit in-person. And they can do it from wherever – their home, a café.”

Those students will get to experience a former leaky building that is currently being fixed in Parnell Terraces. They will also see inside the university’s Sir Owen G Glenn Building, including heating and cooling equipment in the roof, and plant rooms in the basement.

But Rehm isn’t the only one who is taking VR into the classroom. He is already in talks with student accommodation managers to create virtual tours of the accommodation.

Property Department lecturer David Clifton also wants to use VR to allow students to practice assessments of commercial lease spaces. Another application could be the use of computer modelling to produce a virtual tour inside a cladding system engineered for weather-tightness, as if the viewer could shrink – kind of like the action hero Ant Man.

According to Business School dean Professor Jayne Godfrey, VR gives students the chance to explore places too dangerous or difficult to visit in real life.

“VR has the potential to dissolve the lecture theatre walls, allowing students to go anywhere imaginable.”

Rehm adds that VR has many different uses – particularly in smart buildings, and in marketing. Hi-tech smart building systems constantly monitor and optimise temperature, humidity, pressure, and other variables.

“VR can help visualise and manage all that complex information,” says Rehm.

In marketing, prospective buyers could take virtual tours to see what they’re getting from a distance, or what they’re buying off the plans.

“As well as being a compelling teaching tool, VR is something tomorrow’s property professionals will increasingly need to know how to use.”

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