Understanding Spatial Computing: How It’s Changing Technology for the Better

What is spatial computing? Get the basics to understand the trending technology changing how we interact with the real and virtual worlds.

What is Spatial Computing?

Spatial computing is creating a sea change in how we think about and interact with technology.

Ever since Apple released the Vision Pro, “spatial computing” has been gaining on “artificial intelligence” as one of the tech community’s favorite buzzwords. Let’s break down what this trendy term means and how it’s applied in the world today.

Spatial computing is the technology underpinning extended reality (XR) experiences. It’s a combination of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other spatial mapping technologies. Spatial computing captures and processes three-dimensional data allowing users to seamlessly interact with both physical and virtual objects and environments in real-time.

While the term “spatial computing” was actually coined back in 2003, its use is picking up steam due to the release of Apple’s Apple Vision Pro, and is only expected to become more popular in the immersive technology industry.

The Difference Between VR, AR, and MR

At one end of the XR spectrum is VR, a completely immersive virtual experience. At the other is AR, interactive experiences offered by apps like Pokémon Go. Mixed Reality (MR) lies somewhere in the middle.

When you’re in a VR environment, you can’t see any of the real world around you. You might trip over a physical footstool while walking through a virtual doorway.

AR lets you see the real world and view digital items on top of it. For example, you can use Amazon’s AR app to view how a new coffee maker will look on your kitchen counter.

MR allows digital items to interact with physical objects. For example, if you placed the virtual coffeemaker next to the counter in an AR app, it would appear to hover in space. MR understands that the coffeemaker needs a surface – like the physical countertop – to support it.

Spatial computing allows us to interact with virtual objects in physical space. Using this technology, you could reach your hands toward the virtual coffeemaker in physical space, open it, and look inside.

The Features and Benefits of Spatial Computing

When people talk about extended reality, they usually focus on the virtual aspect. But even virtual reality, despite its name, is not truly disconnected from the physical world. In the virtual world, you physically move your body to examine, manipulate, and explore your digital environment.

This physicality is the foundation for some of spatial computing’s key benefits:

  • Facilitated learning. XR learning experiences are incredibly powerful. Students who train in extended reality learn faster, remember more, and focus more deeply than those who train in a traditional classroom environment.

  • Streamlined process improvement. Spatial computing allows rapid iteration with minimal disruption.

    You could experiment with virtual configurations to find the most efficient workspace layout before moving heavy equipment. You can simulate workflows to optimize process efficiencies.

    Running simulations virtually first boosts your odds of success when you make changes in the real world.

  • Enhanced safety. Spatial computing allows us to navigate our physical world more safely. GPS navigation helps us to avoid getting lost. Biometric XR devices help workers correct their form, decreasing workplace injuries. And surgical residents who practice on virtual patients perform 230% better when operating on a real person.

Industry Use Cases for Spatial Computing

Manufacturing

Manufacturing was one of the first industries to embrace spatial computing. XR devices help workers on the line by displaying virtual instructions as they assemble parts. Technical scans help quality assurance associates detect flaws before products go out.

These efficiencies can have a significant impact on the bottom line. Lockheed Martin cut some costs by 93% when it introduced augmented reality.

Product Development

Designers and engineers have used CAD programs for years to conceptualize new products. By adding spatial computing, they can move those 3D renderings off the monitor and into the world around them.

MR headsets make collaboration across continents easier for automotive designers at Volvo. Designers in Sweden, California, and China can all move in, out, and around the same model at the same time.

Retail

Besides AR apps like the one used by Amazon, some retailers are incorporating XR into their brick-and-mortar spaces.

For example, Chinese clothing boutique Lily installed an AR display in the window of its shop in a Shanghai train station. While commuters wait for their trains, they can try clothes on their avatar. A quick scan of a QR code lets them buy the clothes without ever stepping into the store.

Architecture and Design

Augmented reality is giving architects room to explore. Windows can be precisely placed to take advantage of natural light at different times of the day. Creating harmony with the surrounding environment becomes easy.

At a university in Spain, a group of researchers used AR to build a vaulted brick structure without using any forms or guides. Real-time AR-enabled structural monitoring enhanced safety during construction.

Workforce Training

Trial-and-error is an effective way to learn. But some errors have real-world repercussions too dangerous to risk.

At the University of Cambridge, medical students wielding real scalpels operate on virtual patients. Mixed reality headsets allow the students to physically react to changes in the patient’s condition.

This hands-on experience builds muscle memory and shortens reaction time – advantages that could literally mean life or death for future real patients.

The Future of Spatial Computing

As technology advances, spatial computing devices are becoming lighter, more affordable, and more energy efficient, accelerating the technology’s adoption.

Spatial computing does not threaten to replace our real world with a virtual one. Instead, it’s an evolution in our relationship to technology. We’re one step closer to walking away from static devices and focusing on the world around us while the technology fades into the background.

ArborXR helps businesses find high-quality XR app developers, deploy XR content, and manage their fleet of spatial computing devices. See how in our free demo.

Want to explore the use of spatial computing in your organization? Give us a shout or get started today.

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