By Konrad Putzier
A new gadget could help developers turn project opponents into supporters.
Called OWLS, the 300-pound, metal-covered machines look much like the binoculars atop the Empire State Building.
But look through the eye piece, and one sees a rendering of what the surrounding neighborhood might look like post-development.
“People tend to fear what they don’t understand,” said inventor Aaron Selverston, who came up with the idea after years working in the building approval process.
As a reporter for a news site in Silicon Valley, he regularly attended city hearings brimming with agitated NIMBYs.
Later, as a political consultant, he ran a developer’s ballot measure to redevelop three blocks along Market Street in San Francisco. A similar measure had been voted down three years earlier by four percentage points, and analyzing that initial failure led to what Selverston calls a “Eureka moment”.
“In focus groups after the vote, people told us they voted no because they couldn’t visualize the project,” he recalled. Sitting at the table, he suddenly had an idea: Why not retrofit a coin-operated binocular with a digital screen, so that people can look at a rendering as if it was already reality?
The idea led Selverston to start his own company, Owlized. The idea behind Owlized, Selverston explained, is to make it easier for people to visualize a project.
Rather than simply looking at 2D renderings online, local residents can visit a future construction site, look through the OWL and see what it might look like.
Selverston reckons that local politicians and residents are more likely to support a project if they can visualize it, potentially speeding up the approval process. This, he argues, makes OWL a good investment for developers.
Buying an OWL costs $40,000, but the company also offers to rent out a device for a fee of $1,250 per month, a price that is discounted the longer the rental.
Customers can use their own renderings or pay Owlized to draw one. Once bought, an OWL can be re-used at different sites with different renderings.
Eventually, Selverston hopes to sell the OWL to developers and municipalities across the world, but for now he is primarily targeting customers in the Bay area. The firm has only just finished its prototype phase with the help of Autodesk, a major software firm, and is now raising seed money from Angel investors.
If all goes according to plan, Selverston hopes to start selling OWLs in the first quarter of 2015.