How HEGIAS will turn virtual reality into a mass medium

Andreas Schmeil, co-founder of HEGIAS
Andreas Schmeil, co-founder of HEGIAS

Institutional Communication Service

25 October 2019

In the fast-paced digital world, it appears we are set to experience another paradigm shift, similar to what occurred in the early 2000s, with the Web 2.0, when common software programs (such as e-mail) became available via Internet browsers, no longer requiring lengthy physical installations on computers and, most importantly, suddenly anyone could create and manage their own websites and blogs, or upload and share videos online. HEGIAS, the startup co-founded - and initially incubated at CP Start-up USI as Impress - by our alumnus Andreas Schmeil and specialized in VR solutions, is convinced of this change.

The company, which is located in Zurich and Lugano, has developed the world's first automated, browser-based virtual reality (VR) Content Management System (CMS) optimized for the planning, construction and real estate industries. Although the target audience – architects, construction companies, suppliers etc. – is relatively limited in terms of numbers compared to the billions of software users in the world, the goal of Andreas and his colleagues is to create a mass medium by laying down the foundations for a greater democratization of VR, through the multiplier effect created by the different levels of use - from the designer, to the builder, the real estate agent, the interior designers and, ultimately, the customers.

HEGIAS was created as a joint venture between previously created companies, immpres Sagl founded by Andreas, and Responsive AG founded by Patrik Marty and Tuan Nguyen (the other two co-founders of HEGIAS). The idea of founding immpres Sagl (Immersive Presentations) came up during Andreas's PhD at the USI Faculty of Communication Sciences, where he studied collaboration – for example decision-making or co-design and conferences – through immersive 3D environments.

In the construction industry, a change of thinking is currently taking place with the spread of Building Information Modeling (BIM). A VR-based CMS is the perfect complement to it, as architects and construction companies at the push of a button can load CAD and BIM planning data automatically at any time during the planning and construction phase into the virtual environment. This is achieved with the multiuser function, that is, to see (and talk to each other) in the building project through avatars, a very powerful and promising way of working together. An example: a person who wants to buy a new home can "enter" it, virtually through VR from the comfort of his own sofa at home, where he "meets" the architect (who enters from his studio), and also the supplier of tiles for the bathrooms (who might even be located abroad) – so, the three "actors" can make modifications and test them in real time in the virtual environment, in order to design the bathroom, the kitchen, the rooms etc., making decisions together and without the need for traveling.

As another milestone on the way, the Swiss startup completed the Series A round of financing at the end of June 2019, iin excess of 2.3 million Swiss francs, used for development, beta-testing, and product launch on the market.