This post was sponsored by Matterport, all thoughts my own.
We’re all at home and most of us are bored, this much we already know. But in a world that has felt increasingly detached, where we crave human connection and contact with our friends, new initiatives emerge to try and help us fill the gaps.
We can’t yet hug people or have them in our homes, but we find creative and interesting ways to keep sharing our lives with each other, as best we can. And for that, Matterport has developed an app to keep us connected from the comfort of home.
Who is Matterport?
Used in over 150 countries, Matterport has been an industry leader in 3D capture since their inception in 2011. Their goal is to expand the ways in which people can interact with physical spaces, whether that be places they live or simply the ones they’d love to explore.
The Matterport platform enables anyone to turn the physical space around them into immersive, intricately detailed 3D digital twins. Traditionally this has been done through the use of specialised cameras and processing software; creating virtual tours which viewers can move through as they please, alongside interactive floorplans and a ‘doll’s house’ view.
Over the last year, however, Matterport has opened up a new world of 3D capture. Now anyone with an iPhone or iPad can use their innovative new app to create 3D virtual tours which can be shared with others, allowing people to connect and collaborate, even from afar.
How it works
Compatible with iPhone 6s and later, iPad 7 or 8, iPad mini 5, iPad Air 2 and later, and the iPad Pro, the Matterport Capture app makes capturing 3D spaces quick and easy. It’s free to download, free to create an account, and can turn any space into a high-quality 3D model to be shared with others and viewed in 360 degrees. If you want to capture multiple different locations there is a tiered pricing structure, but prices start as low as £7.99 per month.
Instead of needing professional hardware, your iPhone, iPad or Android does the scanning. Simply take the photos as instructed (the process is similar to capturing a panorama photo), and the Matterport software will stitch it together into a 3D model. You can take a ‘simple’ scan, which provides fewer details on the floors and ceilings, or a ‘complete’ scan which captures a fuller picture.
You can personalise this 3D environment: add embedded notes, links, labels, or videos, digitally measure walls, doors, windows and furniture, share dimensions of entire spaces, generate photo galleries and videos (with any faces blurred automatically for privacy). Then share it all with a click, and visitors can virtually explore like they’re there in person.
Connecting in the ‘new normal’
Pre-pandemic, it may have seemed that there was a limited set of uses for this kind of technology. It was mainly reserved for capturing and promoting property listings with the addition of virtual tours. It was an efficient way to help buyers or renters view a wide selection of homes, only having to see a much smaller shortlist in person. It saved time and required far less travel, which was even more useful if clients were relocating (in itself, a little sustainable life hack!).
Since the onslaught of 2020, things have changed. During the first month of lockdown, virtual reality viewings of properties tripled. It allowed greater detail and spatial understanding than photos, saved estate agents time, enabled potential residents to measure rooms to see if furniture would fit, and was Covid safe. For those at home, scans could also provide a digital record of home belongings, which can be used in future for any potential losses or insurance claims.
However, as life continues to shift in these new circumstances, new uses are being found every day.
For business owners, capturing a business space in 3D can be a great way to show new socially distanced layouts and precautions put into place, helping to reassure and reacquaint workers with new ideas. Beyond the pandemic, creating models of workplaces can be helpful for recruiting, planning, wayfinding, and welcoming new hires. Plus you can publish to Google Street View for free, connecting more with the public.
For people who work in construction, the app can help document daily site conditions to share with collaborators, saving physical visits and keeping people safe in the process. For those in remodelling, professional contractors or designers could use scans provided by clients to take measurements for estimations, eliminating more travel, risk and cost.
Instead of contractors measuring and taking photos, going away and coming back with bids, a digital twin could instead let more contractors bid on the work – giving power to the homeowner.
Even if you’re a DIY-er renovating your own spaces, you can share them digitally with others too, helping you stay connected with those who’d normally visit, but also getting feedback and input without having guests in your home.
But these are the practical applications. While we’re still stuck at home, it’s the cultural implications that are the most exciting.
Firstly, small independent businesses can use scans to continue to share with the outside world. If you’re a small gallery, a cafe offering takeaways, or a designer in a studio, you can still share your work online. Viewers and collaborators can access the same manoeuvrability as real life, but you don’t have to invite people into your spaces. While Matterport scans may have started in transactional markets, like property, the technology has evolved with the times to become a means of digital connection that doesn’t rely on getting kicked out of low-quality zoom calls every forty minutes.
The second is cultural understanding. Not only could researchers and academics capture spaces and areas of interest to examine at home, the public has major access too. Before 2020, Matterport had a host of spaces in their galleries that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to view. Nowadays, they’re the closest most of us can get to exploring something fun. Wander the European Museum of Modern Art, the Oxford Museum of Natural History, the Arsenal of the Saint-Jean-des-Vignes abbey in France, or the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in India, and you’ve got yourself a culture trip we’ve all been sorely missing. Pop into a cathedral, synagogue or mosque and admire the architecture. Even browse a record store in Alaska and discover some new music, (yes, the songs start playing when you hover over them).
Or, use them to communicate on important issues. Walk through a tent city, captured in San Francisco in 2016, to examine the realities of homelessness. Stroll through the People’s History Museum and debate democracy. View an exhibition by Shadowlight Artists, an award-winning collective of artists with learning disabilities.
Finally, just use them to share what matters to you. Whether it’s a favourite spot in nature, a special place in your home, or a new chapter you can’t yet share in person (moving to a new city or house, for example) documenting them digitally makes room for connection, sharing and understanding despite the distance.
Testing it for myself
I tried out the Matterport iPhone app this week, and it’s fairly straightforward. There are some simple things that make it easier, like making sure spaces are consistently lit and tidy, and it may take a little practice to get used to. However, Matterport guides you through it well, with tips on how to stand and move when scanning, before advising where to move in the room to take the next image. When you finish scanning there’s a chance to clean things up; identifying windows, mirrors and doors for accuracy and removing anything from the final scan if you need to. When finished, you simply upload to the cloud for processing. Depending on the size and complexity of the space you’ve captured, processing time is fairly quick, and then you’re able to view your full model.
Even with just a phone, the results were impressive. This kind of technology seems complex and out of reach, but Matterport’s app does a good job of making it quicker, easier and understandable for the normal person. Plus, I found it pretty fun! Add in all of the customisable options and you’ve got a world of play with the things you’d like to share. Granted, my house might not be the most interesting, but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to use if I was in a gallery, theatre or other creative space. For now, I just have to settle for looking at scans that are already uploaded, but it’s exciting to think of the possibilities.
Overall, in a time that has felt strange, disconnected and, let’s be honest, not very stimulating, this app is a fun way to inject some exploration and experimentation into our lives. There are multiple practical uses that make this tool fascinating but, for me, it’s also just exciting to find technology that brings people together.