Saturday, March 2, 2024
ConstructionEnergyHistoric preservationTech

Matterport 101 – Three Unusual Use Cases

A number of folks have asked me to tell them a bit more about the use cases for Matterport, which we’ve been doing since late 2020. Most people who know the platform have used it to tour a real estate listing, since that seems to be the dominant use. But it can also be used in construction, education, economic development, historic preservation, and more! If you’re unaware, the platform uses a fancy robot camera, as I call it, to scan spaces with infrared rangefinding and digital imaging. A sophisticated backend transforms this space into a user-friendly experience while also creating highly accurate sets of measurements (and even floor plans and point clouds!).

Energy Analysis & Construction

The job of an energy auditor or energy assessor is to go through a building, measure all of it, and then model the energy usage. It’s very hard to do this without accurate measurements of the whole space. As codes become more stringent and building materials get more advanced, the easiest targets for energy auditors are older buildings, in which case one is typically not going to have access to floor plans from a proper architect. Even then, most auditors would probably still have to make a reference sketch.

Our longtime co-conspirator Kevin McNeely, for example, makes floor plans and takes a bazillion photos on a point-and-shoot camera every time he’s looking at a space. Having photos for reference makes it much easier to figure out everything ranging from window construction type to remembering where that pesky, weird-shaped air return in the dining room is located, or what have you.

To this end, most energy auditors will take some sort of measurements while they’re in a building. It’s possible to ballpark some measurements and metrics without precise numbers (for various reasons), but the more accurate, the better! We used Matterport in 2021 to create precision floor plans and a reference file for a home in Highland Park (an enclave of Detroit). It also avoids having to manage a set of reference photos– which may well number into the hundreds for a single house- because you can always look at details in high resolution. You can also share spaces with other collaborators. Cities looking at energy benchmarking could use Matterport for certain sizes of buildings to achieve twinned objectives of energy analysis and marketing for leasing or sale.

Historic Preservation

Old buildings are cool! Sometimes they get demolished. Other times, they’re lost to fires or other disasters. Whether your local historic structure is being threatened by an Emmett Moten or a Mike Ilitch, having a Matterport camera and technician on hand can do two things. First, it can help make the case for preservation. If you haven’t checked it out, look at our tours of Eagle Point Park and Steeple Square in Dubuque! Those are two amazing sites– the latter of which is a historic preservation project that wouldn’t have been possible without some serious vision. There are plenty of people who are fundamentally imaginatively impaired and cannot conceive of what a revived space would look like. In other words, they just see an abandoned building. Having a visual aid in the form of a Matterport space is a huge benefit.

Second, if your building is inevitably demolished– perhaps you live in a city where criminal families of suburban billionaires have unilateral power, for example, to demolish half of your downtown to build parking lots– having a Matterport space means that the building can live on forevermore on the internet, even if its physical presence is no more. Still, sometimes a building changes but remains intact. You can see the entirety of Ford Motor Company’s Michigan Central Station project under construction here. A number of details– like my favorite, the colorful graffiti in the former cafeteria/restaurant, or parts of the underground concourse- will be substantially modified, but the spaces remain accessible in their erstwhile format.

Economic Development– And Beyond

The North American Main Street has struggled against trends of big box retail, suburbanization and centralization of rural populations (either into big cities or into bigger small towns), and, more recently, the economic effects of inflation (and the need to extend the business cycle at all costs). It’s helpful to have another tool to challenge this. Matterport helps highlight vibrant retail spaces, cultural and arts spaces, educational spaces, and more. It’s possible to include didactic elements called Mattertags, which allow users to interact with the space on a deeper level– embedded images, texts, video, and more, within the “scene.” Imagine that every town could have an atlas of spaces that could be explored through web or mobile, either for prospective commercial tenants, potential shoppers, or prospective residents.

Matterport generously provided us with a small grant to cover operating costs associated with specifically focusing on spaces of local cultural and economic import, ranging from the likes of Eagle Point Park pavilions in Dubuque to a half dozen small and Black-owned businesses in Minneapolis (including Sammy’s Avenue Eatery and the Somali fast-casual Afro Deli), plus the Juxtaposition Arts space in North Minneapolis. In Detroit, we imaged Yum Village, the former FM Envelope Factory on the westside of Detroit, which hosts the Detroit Bus Company, among others– and a number of other small businesses.

What’s next? Museums, historical sites, art galleries? Let’s chat. If you’re interested in talking about what the platform can do for your business or community, please reach out!

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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