Spatial Computing-Entering the next dimension of Computing

For more than 50 years, computing has been a 2-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional world. The technology that processes information right now comprises largely devices with screens and the internet. They process data such as keywords, images, audio, etc., But there’s a huge component of information and interaction that is missing from the realm of digital content, which is present in three-dimensional space.

The recent advancements in computing power, semiconductor technology, sensor technology, computer vision, artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, has enabled devices to map, model and derive information from three-dimensional space, in real time. It has enabled interaction in three-dimensional space as well.

Screens are the medium through which we query, store, and access data, design products, buildings, communicate with each other. But as humans, we are capable of interacting in a three-dimensional space. Spatial computing is a powerful tool to bridge this gap between technology and humans and provide new possibilities of innovation and insight.

What is Spatial Computing?

Spatial computing was defined in 2003 by Simon Greenwold, as “human interaction with a machine in which the machine retains and manipulates referents to real objects and spaces”.

It uses three-dimensional space in real time, as the user interface. It is the technology that enables you to control a screen, without touching it, or manipulate a hologram with your body movements.

At its highest level, spatial computing is the ability to associate a location in space, from an autonomous vehicle on a road, to a robot working in a factory, combining various technologies like Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, camera sensors, Computer Vision, Augmented Reality and so on. [1,2]

Fig.1: Fundamental blocks of Spatial Computing [3]

Spatial Software

The UI/UX that work on 2D screens, don’t work for designing spatial interactions and objects. The level of interaction is more complex, so spatial software requires appropriate logic. The UI now needs to be designed to incorporate eye-controlled interactions, hand/body gestures and voice controls.

Spatial Hardware

Spatial computing needs hardware devices like VR and AR headsets, controllers, tracking and sensors, speakers, cameras, photogrammetry, 3D scanning, haptic gear — gloves, vests, bodysuits.

Spatial Realities

Spatial computing depends on 3D imaging techniques, sensors to detect gestures, — AR/VR headsets, or glasses-free holographic displays.

  1. Simulated reality (SR)

Simulated Reality (SR) works with the perception of an interactive reality, without the need for headsets and controllers, which can be uncomfortable.

Fig.2: A man controlling a shoe on an application using simulated reality

The above picture shows a man, applying colour to the shoes, with only hand gestures. Simulated reality relies on natural gestures. Nodding your head, waving your arms. grabbing the objects that appear in front of you. It’s completely intuitive. This kind of reality helps designers to design products quicker and with more ease. [4,5]

  1. Virtual Reality (VR)

Fig:3: A man wearing a VR headset

Virtual reality is a simulated reality that can mimic the real world, or be completely different from the real world. Virtual Reality is usually experienced with VR headsets. With virtual reality, designers can walk through a building that has yet to be constructed to view and evaluate the design and decide about materials, colours, and furniture down to the smallest detail. It can be used to train employees to operate new equipment with no risk. VR is heavily used by the gaming industry as well.

  1. Augmented reality (AR)

Augmented reality helps to interactively experience a real-world environment where the objects that are present in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated information.

Fig4: Placing virtual furniture in a room using an AR application

With Augmented Reality, users can place virtual objects in the real world, which helps them imagine how a surrounding might look like. For example, with AR apps, users can place virtual furniture in their house, which helps them imagine and make better choices. Popularly, AR is present in some applications as ‘filters’. For example, Instagram has thousands of filters, where a user can take a picture of themselves with a virtual hat, makeup, or earring on and so on. [2]

  1. Mixed Reality (MR)

Mixed reality, merges the real and virtual world, where physical objects and digital objects can co-exist and interact with each other. The key characteristic of mixed reality is that the virtual synthetic content, and the real-world content can react to each other in real-time.

Fig.5: A man interacting with the world using an MR headset

Mixed Reality can help all industries. Doctors can train by operating on virtual bodies, parts of an automobile can be labelled in real time, which can help engineers fix products quicker. Products can be designed with the wave of the hand. [3]

  1. Extended Reality (XR)

Extended reality is an immersive technology, that tries to recreate the exact feeling and conditions of various scenarios. It merges the real and virtual realities, enabling a fully immersive experience, and natural body-hand-object occlusion. It is used to train professionals in high pressure environments. Pilots, doctors, and designers as well, can use extended reality products.

Fig.6: A man training to be a pilot using an XR headset

In the above picture, a person is undergoing training to become a pilot with the help of an extended reality headset. [3]

Impact of Spatial Computing in the world

Spatial Computing is a huge paradigm shift in computing where humans, robots, and virtual objects will move through computing. Tech giants such as Tesla, Facebook, Qualcomm, Apple, Microsoft and others are each spending billions of dollars in R&D to make spatial computing a reality, because of its capability to revolutionize how we access, organize, and use information.

Spatial Computing can revolutionize human collaboration

We, as humans, are powerful because of our ability to think collaboratively. For example, Wikipedia is one of the dominant, widely used knowledge platforms, where every single article is authored and reviewed by millions of people. Spatial computing will facilitate millions of people to collaborate — not with text but by visually capturing the collective human intelligence about every person, place and thing — and make it available to anyone — not by search but at a glance wherever you go, using AR cloud infrastructure. [6]

Conclusion

Spatial computing is a technology that can be adopted in all industries, and it will enhance their efficiency greatly. The technology we use right now is unnatural, and it has been the cause of various physical ailments. We spend hours together sitting, immobile in front of screens today. But now, we can step back into the physical world, even more capable, armed with the power of spatial computing.

Fig.7: Parallels between flatware and spatial ware [6]

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