The rise of the robot surveyor

I do not know if you saw it, but back in April Dr Sabine Hauert of the Royal Society wrote an article for the BBC regarding the “Eight ways intelligent machines are already in your life”.

The list includes how AI (Artificial Intelligence) is changing the way we shop, the way in which we communicate and use our mobile phones and how we do our banking, along with other changes in science, education and in healthcare. Doctor Hauert concludes the article by saying: “Over the next 10 years machine learning technologies will increasingly be part of our lives, transforming the way we work and live.”

So what transformations can we expect in the world of real estate? How will jobs in surveying change over the next ten years?

It is a topic that I, and my colleague Bob Thompson, have taken a close look at over the past year or so and our findings are now available in an Insight Report that has been published by the RICS. 

As part of our study for the ‘Impact of Emerging Technologies on the Surveying Profession’ report, we identified a set of 43 basic tasks that surveyors undertake as part of their day-to-day activity. Having identified these we looked at their exposure to automation and found that almost half were found to exhibit a high degree of vulnerability, while a further twenty showed a significant degree of vulnerability.

We believe this means that, over the next decade, almost 90% of the core tasks undertaken by surveyors could be impacted by new and emerging technologies.

Our own findings were complemented in the report by a survey of property professionals, who were asked for their own opinions on the likely impact of technology on surveying. This allowed us to conclude that the disruption caused by automation within surveying is most likely to be seen in the specialisations of lease management, valuation and the direct management of property, investment & asset management and facilities management.

These changes will come about as a result of an increase in the consistency and transparency of transactions and an increase in the accuracy of reporting which will be increasingly done in real time, thanks to a massive increase in the deployment of building sensors.  In turn, there will be a reduction in the cost of managing buildings and portfolios. We also think that there will be a significant reduction in staffing in certain areas such as valuation.

Surveyors are multi-skilled professionals but with so many tasks being suitable for automation we have to expect far-reaching changes in our profession in the next few years with a change in the skillset of surveyors, who are likely to become either data scientists or client managers.

The changes that AI will bring about will offer both challenges and opportunities for surveyors that embrace the new technologies to bring value to their clients through increased efficiencies and high-level, strategic advice to their clients. The new technologies will allow property to compete with other asset classes on a level playing field.

Those that ignore the changes that are rapidly coming down the road will do so at their own peril.

Download a copy of ‘The Impact of Emerging Technologies on the Surveying Profession’.


Velo-city conference 2017 - Nijmegen, The Netherlands

By Hans Gerritsen 

 

This year’s international cycling conference was held in my home town Nijmegen in June, so I pushed my way in, after hearing that several other associates of mine would be attending. The conference was hosted by Region Arnhem Nijmegen, which looks after various cities in the Netherlands.

Commuters, students, inhabitants and visitors travel to and from these cities in large numbers each day. In conjunction with the surrounding municipalities, the region can be best described as a smoothly-running ‘daily urban system’, which is becoming increasingly organised on a regional scale. Much effort is currently being devoted to developing new mobility systems, which include traffic and mobility management systems, public transport and the creation of an extensive infrastructure network of fast cycle routes. These fast cycle routes ideally complement the daily urban system: because they offer greater comfort, are free of obstacles and they allow cyclists to travel much greater distances. 

The conference involved a Mayors Session, in which 30 mayors participated, including the Mayors and Deputy Mayors of Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Dublin, Mannheim, Kampala, Oslo, Dusseldorf and Nantes. Other renowned participants included EU commissioner for transport, Violeta Bulc, ITF secretary General José Viegas, and the Luxemburg minister for transport. The main objective of the event was to exchange ideas and experiences on how to create 'Governance for more Cycling'.

More about Velo-City

ECF’s Velo-city is the world’s leading provider of international cycling conferences. It is the largest gathering of cycling professionals in the world, enabling both academics and practitioners to discuss innovations, ideas and best practice strategies for cycling. This year’s event, was hosted in the ‘cycling capital of the world’ - the Netherlands. The theme was ‘the freedom of cycling’, which relates to the physical, economic, social and spiritual freedom of travel and well-being. The conference had a vibrant structure, bringing together cycling professionals from every sector, including academics, politicians, cycling advocates, mayors from many cities, press and media, cycling networks and communities.

More about Scientists for Cycling Network

Launched at the Velo-city Global 2010 conference in Copenhagen, the Scientists for Cycling network was created due to the growing recognition that there is a large number of experts worldwide, in many different academic disciplines, who are able and ready to contribute to ECF’s mission: to improve and to increase cycling. Research, research-plans and scientific-based publications on cycling or cycling-related matters are often not sufficiently connected to (the networks of) other scientists, professionals and volunteers who concentrate on cycling. The Scientists for Cycling network is designed to bridge this gap.

Why the Netherlands? Bicycles! The Netherlands!

Two terms, two images that are inextricably linked with each other! The Dutch really enjoy cycling. Most Dutch people (84%) own at least one bicycle. Of the 17 million inhabitants in the Netherlands, 13.5 million are cyclists, who own 22.3 million bicycles in total! There is no other similarly-affluent country in the world where bicycles are used so intensively! The Dutch cycle mainly because they find the bicycle to be a pleasant and reliable means of transport. The Netherlands is the world's number 1 cycling country for good reason!

Facts and figures

The Dutch choose the bicycle for a quarter of our journeys overall and one third of all journeys up to 7.5 kilometres in length! That equates to more than 4.5 billion journeys by bicycle each year, and a distance of 15 billion kilometres. On average, each inhabitant of the Netherlands completes 300 journeys by bicycle each year, covering a distance of more than 900 kilometres!

Those key facts and figures about cycling in the Netherlands are part of the reason why holding Velo-city 2017 in the Netherlands, and more specifically in the Arnhem-Nijmegen region, was such an attractive and unique opportunity!


"I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that..." - by Bob Thompson & Andrew Waller

We’ve moved on. Last year, our discussions with property people about artificial intelligence (AI) often led to comments about unlocking a future dominated by Terminator robots. Peoples’ (entirely rational) fears are summed up by the quote from 2001: A Space Odyssey, when HAL, the ship’s computer tries to kill the crew.

Remit Christmas gifts were Amazon Echos – the device that houses Alexa, Amazon’s AI assistant. James Dearsley, proptech guru, was an early adopter of Alexa, but his wife is not a fan. The day she “met” Alexa, she said sharply “Turn her off!” An insight into how we will view our AI assistants? More worryingly, our team has reported that Amazon has recommended purchases on their next visit to the website, coincidentally similar to items discussed in the same room as Alexa.

Is this acceptable?

Well, AI is set to become a bigger part of all of our lives. Marketing thought leader Seth Godin recently wrote a list of 23 things that a computer can now do better than a human., Amongst these tasks are “Pick a face out of the crowd”, and “figure out the P&L of a large company”. Watson, the IBM supercomputer is currently prescribing drugs more accurately than a human GP and PwC has launched a bot which dispenses advice. Professional services are not safe.

You may say, “ah, but a computer can’t [insert task here]” – that’s missing the point. AI will be adopted despite our fears because it makes our lives easier, and is cheaper than getting someone to do it for us. Moreover, one reason they will be adopted is that they CAN’T currently do the whole job – they pose no immediate threat.

A thought experiment – a number of web sources give an example of a stadium being filled with water exponentially – 1 drop, then 2 drops after a minute, 4 drops a minute later and 8 drops a minute after that… and so on. The stadium is full after only 49 minutes. The point is that after 45 minutes, the stadium is only 7% full. The majority of the flood occurs in the last 4 minutes.

There is good reason to suppose that the rise of the machines will also appear suddenly. We are still some way off, but the future is clear – we will be working side by side with our creations in most of our current jobs – and just as in previous industrial revolutions, many jobs will be “lost”.

We have recently been discussing future roles in the property industry and our paper on this will shortly be published by the RICS – there are good reasons for optimism but the potential for change is real. Early adopters will adapt and benefit from the changes – others may not retain any choice.

Perhaps our real fear may be that we won’t be able to do the things we were trained to do in the last century - I’m sorry Dave; I’m afraid you can’t do that.

Weird Science - by Matthew Blackmore-Squires

Weird Science?

…no, I am not referring to a certain cult film that caused many a teenager to stare at their screens, slack jawed, at the ‘science’ of building a rather over-perfect partner. Rather, the science which is being incorporated into our working environments.

As an occupier, the ‘science’ that has moved into the workplace is increasingly becoming a minefield to navigate; technology and ideas abound such as motion sensors, desk sensors, environmental controls (air quality/ flow, light quality, noise pollution), biophilia, ‘densification’, wellness / wellbeing, BREEAM, WELL Buidling Standard certifications etc. There is increasing demand for a new face in the business team, who might ensure these ideas work, are analysed and the results are acted upon in a collaborative approach. This will allow improvements in the productivity and motivation of the workforce to shine through.

Most of these technologies, have been highlighted in the excellent research paper ‘The Stoddart Review’. (more on that later in our newsletter).

So, who’s going to manage all of that for you? [Enter screen right] Facilities Management (FM)…
FM will maintain your estate, and it’s worth noting that our last REMark survey shows there are twice as many FMs as PMs now in property management. Their focus is not just on occupiers, as Landlords are increasingly looking to FM to add value to their properties and attract tenants.

Yet, FM is largely undefined and, even now, still requires more work to understand the scope of that role. Better definition of the FM role would certainly help clients understand the value they can bring to the table.

[Enter screen left] the ‘Work Scientist’* perhaps as a stereotype wearing a white coat, complete with the pens in the top pocket. This role requires an understanding of how to apply innovation, change and a more ‘geeky’, scientific approach to the workplace.

I would encourage you to look up MITIE’s very interesting video about their work at Redbull Racing (yes, the F1 team) and tell me you disagree!

As with all ‘weird’ things, it takes a leap of faith by the few for the many to have the hazy mist lifted and the prize slowly appear; at least, I think that’s how it happened in the film!

Welcome to 2017, its going to be a bumpy, but fun ride and we hope we get to speak to you at some point in the year!

* acknowledgement to Mark Tyson (formerly of Mitie Group) for this role title.


Christmas Top 10: PropTech

The property industry's favourite topic this year has got to be PropTech; a mashup of "property" and "technology", featuring various technology products and services claiming to radically change how we live, work, buy, sell and build in the future.

So we did a quick survey around the office to see what everyone's favourite PropTech innovations were and why...

1. Alexa
As built into the Amazon Echo, Alexa is the first real example of artificial intelligence in the home that you can talk to. You don’t have to get a phone out of your pocket – you just ask her (it?) for information or to remind you of something in your normal speaking voice. It links to services like Spotify and can even control your heating.
- Andrew Waller

2. Splittable
"Shared living made simple...": This residential innovation splits bills and tracks expenses amongst flatmates very easily, via a user-friendly and free iOS, Android and web app. You can pay your housemates back directly through the app, which also conveniently stores past expenses and recorded payments for monitoring purposes.
- Melita Thomas

3. Realla
A fantastic search engine for commercial lettings and investments, which also enables agents to easily produce marketing materials.
- Mark Jones

4. 3D printed buildings
The concept has been around for a while, but Dubai unveiled the world’s first 3D printed building this year and wants 25% of its buildings to be 3D printed by 2030. None of this could be done without the help of a ginormous printer though - this one was 120 feet long, which is a whole 20% bigger than a blue whale!
- Steph Yates

5. Fixflo
Whilst at university, the last thing I wanted to do was contact my landlord to complain about the house falling apart. However, via the tenant portal, I had access to Fixflo; a customised picture-based diagnostic system which helped to identify issues, pinpoint the room on a map of the house and educate me on what my responsibilities were in the situation. This gave me the opportunity to provide every detail, including evidential pictures, which they need to fix the problem without any need to interrrupt my revision.
- Miquela Bezuidenhoudt

6. Appear Here
This PropTech innovation has successfully filled a clear gap in the retail property market by connecting landlords' vacant spaces directly to retailers - all at the click of a button. Their website is very user-friendly and I’ve also heard that they will be expanding into additional support services by helping their clients set up their pop-up stalls or shops; through efficiently finding them support staff and facilities.
- Joel Suissa

7. WikiHouse
Aiming to give people with no formal construction training an easy way to start building their own homes. The plans are simple to construct, free and easily customisable to meet demands. Construction of WikiHouse structures requires no special parts and can be assembled in less than a day by people with no formal training in construction.
- Francis Hardy

8. Nest Smart Thermostat
This Gadget allows you to adjust the temperature at home, both manually and remotely. You can also turn the heating on from your phone in advance of arriving home and the device switches the heating off when it senses that nobody is there.  Thanks to this innovative Smart App, I now have much greater control over energy consumption and am hopeful that I might see a 5-10% reduction in costs.
- Neil Webster

9. The DAQRI Smart Helmet
Virtual reality is finally going beyond the gaming world and into the (err...) real world, with improved functional applications. The DAQRI Smart Helmet is clearly aimed at real time front-end design and specifications, with the construction, building and Facilities Management markets at the forefront of its functionality. The primary focus is on the BIM aspects of a property.
- Matthew Blackmore-Squires

10. Tempronics
"Heating and cooling individuals more and buildings less..." Tempronics has turned this concept into reality, with the introduction of their 'Temperfect' office chair. They have embedded hundreds of tiny pumps into the cushions of every Temperfect chair to allow personal control of thermal comfort. This innovation has the potential to significantly reduce heating and cooling costs (both financially and environmentally). Roughly 50% of energy expended by offices is for heating and cooling purposes currently.
- Bob Thompson

Marmite - by Matthew Blackmore-Squires

Has this now been relegated to the second biggest divider of national opinion in recent British history?

As the advert stated; 'You either love it, or hate it'.

Even when asking the question of others, it would normally equate to about a 50/ 50 split either way, and could you persuade the opposing side to swing their opinion? In my experience, not very often, if at all. People are often wary when being asked to change their minds. “Why should I? What’s in it for me?” These are just a couple of the obvious retorts.

So how do you break down barriers and get people thinking differently?

Well, psychologically speaking, changing someone's mind is rather difficult. Let’s reflect on the most recent political event to be written into British history books, Brexit. It’s a similar split to the Marmite argument at roughly 50%. Talking to someone with opposing ideas and beliefs on the subject can raise heated debate and often end in a stand-off. In politics, public statements - in this case referendums - are rarely overruled, which makes the forthcoming political and economic decisions extremely difficult propositions. Good luck Mrs May!

You see, it’s quite simple: our strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts. In order to get someone to reconsider their views, it's important to understand the role of "coherence" in supporting beliefs. Or more simply put, the examples that back up your beliefs and ideas.

To change people’s minds, it is important to undermine the coherence among the things that they do believe, to develop counterarguments to their most significant sources of support and to expose them to more pieces of information that are consistent with new beliefs. Attaining all this information from multiple sources or influencers is also key . After all, the easiest way for people to maintain their current beliefs is to decide that any contrary information is unreliable, or simply ignore it. The Brexit campaign is a good example of this method; It played with people’s beliefs, ideas and emotions.

With all this said, our method is rather simple and although the tasks we are asked to resolve are not as political or perhaps as daunting as the task ahead for Mrs May - the same principles still apply, which boil down to Definitions and Objectives. By clearly defining issues, one is more likely to be able to get to the crux of the issues, identify common ground with the opposing party and find areas where they are in agreement.

Working collaboratively with opposing parties also helps to set clear and achievable objectives for resolving the defined issues. Research suggests that by having a greater level of detail in definitions combined with setting a greater number of actions in order to achieve the objectives, leads to an enhanced perception of success by those looking on from above, within or outside.
Yet, of course some people will never change their minds. After all, taste buds are genetically engineered to simply accept the stuff you love or hate.

P.S. I love it. Especially when spread over hot granary toast with butter!

Inventing Dinosaurs - by Andrew Waller

Our friend, Antony Slumbers’ recent Estates Gazette article on technology let slip the comment: "The iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 are virtually indistinguishable. Therefore, the smartphone has been perfected”.

But has it? I am completely dependent on mine but despite this, I think there is lots wrong with the design.

My smartphone is currently sitting on the desk beside my laptop because it is uncomfortably large sitting in my pocket. It’s too heavy; it’s easily broken; and the battery life is still too short. The memory fills up with data after a year and slows down the phone, and, it fails to connect up properly with other devices (sports) or I need to compromise on what I want to do.

On form and function it therefore fails. So why are Samsung and Apple apparently content to stop making huge leaps of innovation?

If you were to assume that Apple simply went for a land-grab to capture as many fee paying customers as possible, the end goal of a truly useful, portable and inconspicuous piece of design becomes irrelevant; Apple (and Samsung) has achieved the land grab – why not stop there?

We also know that people – customers - hate change, and so further marketing to persuade customers to adopt the Next Big Thing would not add greatly to revenues. Why not stick with what customers like?

And so, dinosaurs are born. The way is therefore clear for someone with the clout of Apple to reinvent things. Again.

However, step-changes come about infrequently and unexpectedly. For example, we are seeing small changes in the real estate market despite some very active PR surrounding Proptech – the generic name for the new band of revolutionary property ideas based on new technology. The recent Proptech 2016 conference in London was very similar to ones back in the dotcom boom in 2000 – new ideas emerged in the years after, but few were revolutionary.

Rather than rely on technology alone to solve our problems, let’s look at some obvious issues.
The “Average time to sell a home falls to record low of 57 days” proclaims the FT on 20th June. Nearly two months? Really? When travel markets, financial markets and the banks can exchange data digitally and instantaneously? If the current Proptech evangelists are to succeed they need to find a compelling reason to change and that simply isn’t happening.

We think the change will come from one of three places, or all three at the same time. Firstly, digital data will eventually find its way into real estate. When this is captured reliably - using technology already available such as BIM, BMS and block chain - due diligence time will shrink, speeding transactions to days if not hours. Next up, flexible use of space on non-lease agreements such as those offered by Regus and WeWork will begin to replace leases as soon as traditional landlords recognise the profits that are being sucked out of their legacy investments. Lease-as-a-Service is real and transformational. Lastly, Machine Learning is being leap-frogged by Deep Learning at a rate that is terrifying – how can a lawyer or broker add value if not only knowledge, but quite significant reasoning is being done by machines. People will be needed - but not for the basics… or even quite complex analysis.

In real estate, we have not yet had our iPhone moment but it may come sooner than most people think.