Layar makes use of a cell phone’s GPS, compass and camera capabilities to identify your current location and overlay information on your camera’s view of the real world.

By Petra Jones

Imagine pointing your mobile phone camera at a property for sale and being able to call up all the relevant listing information. This is one of the exciting possibilities offered by augmented reality technology. Let’s look at how this new technology is already being used in the real estate industry and find out when it’s likely to arrive in Canada.

Users can point a Layar-enabled cellphone camera at any Parisian building to show the estimated financial value of that property

Users can point a Layar-enabled cellphone camera at any Parisian building to show the estimated financial value of that property

Augmented reality technology allows us to overlay statistics and information on the real world as seen through a mobile phone, guiding us to property listing locations and providing data on the things that we see. The world’s first augmented reality browser, Layar, was unveiled last summer and this technology is already being used to build real estate apps.

The idea is that objects like properties, boundaries or outbuildings can be tagged with information superimposed on your camera’s view using layers. Created by Amsterdam-based SPRXmobile, Layar is intended for use with Android cell phones like the T-Mobile G1 and HTC Magic. Android is an open source mobile phone operating system developed initially by Google, with the aim of encouraging better web access, development and innovation for cell phones.

Layar is the world’s first augmented reality browser.

Layar is the world’s first augmented reality browser.

The first real estate related app has already been built. French company Meilleurs Agents used the Layar technology to create a property valuation app. Users can point a Layar-enabled cellphone camera at any Parisian building to show the estimated financial value of that property, with prices displayed per square metre in euros. The idea behind this free application is to allow sellers to safely price their property and identify the best brokers to carry out the sale. Ultimately this augmented reality app might be combined with Meilleur Agent’s “heatmap”, a colour coded view of Paris showing the most valuable or “hot” areas of the city in red.

The app is currently available for Google Android cell phones with plans for a release on Apple’s iPhone 3GS in France. You can see a video of the MeilleurAgents app ( working at

The Layar augmented reality browser is also being used to construct real estate apps in the U.S. The UDR apartment search app uses Layar and the T-Mobile Android camera phone to find apartments available for rent. The UDR app is currently limited to listings of apartments for rent across 10 states but users can access tours, phone or email the leasing office to get more information, and even reserve their favourite apartments, using the technology. It seems likely UDR will be just one of a growing number of such augmented reality apps, particularly as it’s claimed that the layer construction, database programming and integration took only about 15 hours to complete.

One of the first actual real estate apps to take advantage of Layar’s augmented reality browser is Trulia. Developed for a U.S. audience, Trulia flags up properties for sale or rent using an Android cellphone camera with information on sale price and pictures you can browse of the property’s interior, plus a contact number for the real estate agent. There’s also a viewfinder to help property seekers find other properties for sale in the local area. The real estate search engine company claims the app took them just three hours to create. See for more information.

There’s also Hotpads, an augmented reality app that allows users to narrow their searches by type (for sale or rent), enter a search range and maximum price, and search a database of around three million properties for sale. Users select a listing by tapping an icon on their screen to call up a menu offering a detailed listing with pricing, photos and a description of the property or options to call the real estate agent or get directions. As with some of the other augmented reality apps, they can be installed by accessing the Android Market and searching for the app by name.

How else could augmented reality be used? Given that version 2.0 of Layar’s augmented reality browser only became available globally a few months ago, the developers have certainly been busy. Support for Layar’s augmented reality browser is already available in Canada with the app working on Android phones like the HTC Dream, and there are plans for iPhone 3GS support shortly.

A Toronto subway system app has already been produced by Winvolve. It identifies where you are and shows you where to find the nearest station (see Potentially such public transportation and Google maps apps could make property listings much easier to find. So far augmented reality apps have been limited to overlaying images or video over the real world as seen through a cellphone camera lens. But in future, it’s not hard to imagine augmented reality apps that also offer audio – perhaps including a real estate agent’s guided tour highlighting particular areas of interest via the screen.

Sound too good to be true? The real acid test will be how fast these kinds of apps can serve up and superimpose the information we need on the real world – we still don’t know how they’ll perform once they become popular and large numbers of people are using them to view real estate listings. Besides the issues of speed and performance, there are practical issues like how well such apps will perform in areas with poor signal strength, or whether they can overlay data accurately on the real world without ambiguity. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting new technology for the real estate industry to explore.  

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Posted: 2010-02-01 07:37:58

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