The patent, if granted, would give Zillow domain over the process of recording, analyzing, and presenting such videos in conjunction with real estate services.
The official title of the patent is “Generating Floor Maps For Buildings From Automated Analysis Of Visual Data Of The Buildings’ Interiors,” leaving little to the imagination: The respective processes of creating, analyzing, and sharing those floor maps all fall under the heading of the patent.
The patent also specifies “automated operations” in the abstract, implying that the method of capture all the way through analysis and sharing could be performed automatically via the aforementioned “computing devices.”
Zillow clearly intends to use the results of this process for both further development of their automation (“controlling navigation of devices”) and for customer use while viewing properties virtually (“display on client devices in corresponding GUIs”).
The videos themselves can be “continuous” in that they are recorded by a camera moving seamlessly through the house from room to room; similarly, the videos may be “acquired without obtaining any other information about a depth from the path to any surfaces in the house,” resulting in what one might identify as the modern equivalent of a virtual tour.
The end result of such a video, at least for clients, is the ability to view and control an uninterrupted sequence of movement through a property. At any given time, the client could theoretically pause and “look around” using the 360-degree controls; this process would, ultimately, simulate actual movement through the home.
Naturally, this patent is worrying for the same reason Zillow’s past patents have been problematic: It’s too broad.
360-degree video is an obvious choice for real estate services looking to create a virtual experience that is interchangeable with an in-person tour, and–between accessibility issues and social distancing protocols of the last year–it’s an increasingly necessary option for real estate providers who want to stay afloat.
If Zillow is able to secure this patent, competitors will have to find another way to create their virtual tours–one that, in the ever-tightening web of options not proprietary to Zillow, is sure to drive even the most loyal clients into Zillow’s patent-snatching arms.