What is Spatial Computing: Benefits & How It Works?

Spatial Computing

While spatial computing isn’t well known as a term in many circles, people every day across the globe use spatial computing in their daily lives when they drive their cars, ask their smartphone a question or tag themselves at a cafe on social media. The disruptive application of technologies known as spatial computing had an estimated market value of $102.1 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow to $544.6 billion by 2032. Spatial computing has transformed how technology is used in almost every area of life. Technology has evolved from static devices like desktop computers to immersive technology integrated into everyday life. Examples of spatial computing enjoying widespread use include:

  1. Location tagging on social media platforms. 
  2. Using a phone GPS program or a ridesharing app.
  3. Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies.
  4. Devices that use speech recognition software, such as Siri on the iPhone and Amazon’s Alexa device.
  5. The Internet of Things (IoT).

This article will explore how spatial computing works and the benefits it offers everywhere, from the home to manufacturing to warehouses.

What is Spatial Computing?

Spatial computing merges computers and the physical world. This computing revolution takes the next step on technology’s path towards smaller, less visible interfaces, making spatial computing unobtrusive and organic. As its name implies, spatial computing combines how humans use and relate to their environment (or space) by incorporating technology into the spaces people naturally occupy. By blending computers with the environment, efficiency and productivity are increased. 

Spatial computing is also often called the new Internet or Web 3.0. Web 1.0 and 2.0 were the domain of visible and clunky computers. While desktop computers are still useful, spatial computing and Web 3.0 are already at work in the average person’s life. 

How Does Spatial Computing Work?

Similar to how artificial intelligence (AI) mimics human behavior, spatial computing also strives to replicate human actions and thought processes in physical space. Spatial computing is a bridge between the material and digital worlds. But how does it do this? In short, spatial computing uses integrated technology to mirror how people interact with the 3-dimensional world. 

For example, someone walking down the street who sees an object in their path knows to stop or go around. Spatial computing uses technology to mimic the actions of observation, analysis, and action-taking. 

  • Observation

A 3-D model of the world is captured by technology such as photogrammetry, radar, and lidar. Radar and lidar use radio waves or laser reflections that bounce off objects to measure distance. Photogrammetry creates 3-D models from photos and can blend images from multiple sources, like a camera. Newer AI technology like neural radiance fields (NeRF) is also used here. 

  • Analysis

AI techniques come into play in this step, where the gathered data can be analyzed. Machine vision is a popular analysis technique for identifying objects and looking for problems, patterns, or more data. 

  • Action

Next, an action step is determined. For example, when a self-driving car detects a pedestrian and stops to avoid an accident, this is spatial computing taking action. This action, however, is determined by the information sensed in the first step and analyzed in the second step. 

Applications of Spatial Computing

Here are some of the applications of spatial computing. 

  1. Physical Products: Self-driving cars that operate in the physical world and respond to outside stimuli are only one example of spatial computing at work. Immersive technology, like the ever-evolving Virtual Reality (VR) headset, continues to rise in popularity, creating applications beyond entertainment. Bank of America is testing XR (a combination of Virtual and Augmented realities) technologies in their trading rooms, where users can see a 3D flow of live information. 
  2. Industrial: Spatial computing can help companies optimize every step of the manufacturing process. Interactions between machines and people are refined, increasing speed, productivity, and safety. Spatial computing bridges the gap between physical automation and robotic process automation. For example, a worker can more accurately program a robotic arm using an AR interface. And once those products are manufactured, spatial computing is hard at work in warehouses worldwide. Spatial computing has many valuable applications in the warehouse, including suggesting efficient workflows to prevent employee burnout. 
  3. Healthcare: While there are many applications of spatial computing in healthcare, a prominent example is ProjectDR, developed by the University of Alberta. ProjectDR is an Augmented Reality (AR) device that allows doctors to project diagnostic images onto a patient's skin. ProjectDR automatically takes into account skin texture, contours, and patient shape and projects an accurate image for each patient. ProjectDR can be used during surgery, conservative care like injections, and education for patients and medical students.

Advantages of Spatial Computing

Many advantages come with the use of spatial computing.

  1. Driving and navigation are made easier and safer with spatial computing. Navigation applications utilize GPS and other sensors to provide efficient, accurate directions and real-time information about traffic hazards such as accidents or construction. There are billions of GPS devices in use today.
  2. There are many exciting applications of spatial computing in education. VR or AR technology creates an engaging, immersive experience that accelerates learning in various fields, from history to science. These applications are also relevant in many areas where education is essential, such as medicine and manufacturing.
  3. Retailers are embracing the advantages of spatial computing to engage with customers in brick-and-mortar and online shopping environments. Retailers with physical locations are using spatial computing to track customer movements and provide real-time customized recommendations. Online retailers are using spatial computing and VR/AR technology to allow customers to virtually “try on” clothing, accessories, and makeup. Larger items, such as furniture or television sets, can be virtually arranged in a customer's home, making it easier to tell how well an item fits.
  4. Spatial computing supports the optimal design of physical spaces. Architects and designers use them to create virtual designs of building projects. These virtual models assist every step of the design process, including any revisions. Architects and designers can examine changes to a construction plan on the virtual model, and errors are revealed in the design stage rather than the construction phase, resulting in lower project costs.  

Trends in Spatial Computing

  1. Many of the trends in spatial computing have to do with its application in Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Realities (AR/VR/MR). Fueled by AI computer vision, this arena is seeing significant development. Applications of these technologies are gaining widespread acceptance beyond the gaming industry. Museums are embracing various forms of VR as touring aids, using them to enhance the visitor experience.
  2. Education and training in all industries and fields can benefit from spatial computing through virtual reality simulations and mixed-reality design. Creating a realistic and engaging teaching environment creates valuable learning opportunities for students of all stripes. These environments are beneficial for teaching skills like surgery or working in dangerous industrial conditions.
  3. Increasingly sophisticated 3-D images created with spatial computing will assist with activities such as urban planning. Urban populations are projected to increase by billions over the next several decades, and spatial computing is poised to play a significant role in developing new urban areas and repairing existing infrastructure. With its various technologies, such as geospatial mapping, spatial computing is ideally suited to support an activity inherently oriented around spaces and how we use them. 

Spatial computing is a disruptive technology already part of everyday life and is slated to continue growing in leaps and bounds. Businesses can become early adopters of these new technologies and gain a competitive advantage. Reach out to the spatial computing experts at Encora for more information on how to benefit from this new and exciting technology. 

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