Over the last year or so, as stay-at-home orders have come and gone around the world, we have all learned a huge amount about the digital world. We have shopped and communicated online, worked from home, and attended virtual festivals. One activity that has definitely grown in popularity has been virtual museum visits. Museums around the world, both large and small, have opened up their collections to digital viewing, and welcomed online visitors. 

But have you ever given much thought to the technology behind those virtual visits? In this article, we give you the lowdown on Matterport, digitising the built environment for more than a decade—and therefore now enabling virtual visits to museums such as the Oxford Museum of Natural History. So, museums aside, what do you really need to know about Matterport?

Matterport creates 3D models, or digital twins, of real-life spaces

On the face of it, Matterport’s proposition is simple. Its artificial intelligence-based technology takes 2D images of any physical space, and turns them into a 3D model. These models are dimensionally accurate, and the photo-realistic software means that they are rendered as very realistic. Looking at the link to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, for example, you could be standing in the museum. What’s more, the models are not just for viewing: they are also interactive, and can be shared for collaborative working.

The software works with cameras—including on smartphones

One of the real benefits of Matterport is that it doesn’t need an incredibly high-powered camera to work. A good camera is of course an advantage, because the image will be clearer, and Matterport provides details of several cameras that are ideal. However, the software also works with smartphone cameras, meaning that 3D models are within most people’s grasp. You can also create a free account—so there are very few barriers to getting started if you wish, say, to create a virtual tour for an Airbnb listing.

One real strength is Matterport’s huge digital library

After a decade of operations, Matterport now has a huge digital library of images from buildings of all types. The company believes this is the largest spatial digital library in the world. This is key to being able to use lower quality images. Coupled with the high quality neural network behind the software, it means that any gaps in the images can be filled in. Information can therefore be inferred from other examples of similar buildings. This enables users to answer questions such as the likely location of fire escapes or sprinklers, or the average size of a kitchen in a London flat.

There are already a huge number of possible applications of Matterport’s models, including energy sustainability

Matterport has been around for a decade or so, and in that time, has developed plenty of applications and use cases for its models. Matterport’s intro points to a wide spectrum of use cases including insurance, schools, museums, retail, real estate, and factories: anywhere, really, where you might want to either view a space, or remodel it in some way. University of Wolverhampton School of Architecture’s Environmental Technologies and Resource Efficiency Support Services (EnTRESS) programme is using Matterport with its works with subject matter experts to improve energy efficiency and sustainability through the adoption of environmental technology.

The last year has really opened people’s eyes to the potential for 3D modelling of physical spaces

Until the last year or so, digital twins and 3D models have been rather esoteric. After all, if you wanted to visit a museum or house, you could do so. Since the pandemic, though, there has been an explosion in the use of 3D models and virtual tours. Tourist venues have been quick to pick up on the potential, but so has the real estate business, providing virtual tours to support sales and lets. These options are useful enough that they seem likely to become a part of our lives in the longer term, rather than fading away. 

Matterport’s momentum has been impressive

Matterport looks like one of the key technologies of the future—and the company’s results tend to confirm that view. It has just reported total revenues of $27 million this year, and year-on-year growth of over 100%, with subscribers up 531% to over 300,000. Perhaps some of this is the ‘COVID effect’, but our betting is that at least some of that growth will prove to be sustainable.