Spatial computing is an emerging technology that enables users to have an immersive relationship with computing. Although spatial computing is just now starting to take off, SMBs should keep an eye on it because the technology has the potential to transform how people interact with computers—from radically changing business workflows to expanding the universe of consumer products. Let’s take a closer look at this exciting new technology.

What is Spatial Computing?

An MIT graduate student coined the term spatial computing in his 2003 master’s thesis. It refers to human interaction with a computer that references real objects and spaces. Fast-forward to today, and the concept has evolved to encompass technologies that use spatial relationships to connect digital information to the physical world. There are currently three types of spatial computing:

  • Virtual reality (VR), in which users are fully immersed in simulated, computer-generated environments
  • Augmented reality (AR), which places text, images, videos, and other digital information on top of views of the real world.
  • Mixed reality (MR), which uses transparent displays to overlay digital content onto real-world scenes.

Users access spatial computing technologies through smartphones or headsets. In the future, neural interfaces may connect these technologies directly to a user’s brain. Today’s cutting-edge headsets feature cameras, microphones, and other sensors, and they use GPS, Bluetooth, and other technologies to blend virtual experiences with the physical world. Apple Vision Pro, Meta Quest Pro, and Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 are the leading spatial computing products currently on the market.

With spatial computing technologies, people can use their voice, hand gestures, and gaze to interact with virtual objects as if they were physically present. Spatial computing enables people to interact with humans and machines in new ways.

How Can Spatial Computing Benefit Your Business?

Spatial computing technologies will help businesses drive innovation and boost the productivity of employees. They will also enable businesses to create new consumer products and services by expanding computing into every object that a person can see or touch.

Spatial computing offers a wide range of benefits to businesses, including

  • Advanced training and immersive simulations to improve employee skills development
  • Faster knowledge transferal
  • More effective remote assistance using AR for guidance and hands-free repairs
  • Enhanced productivity through new digital workflows and remote collaborations
  • Improved team building
  • Better design testing via digital twins (virtual representations)
  • Creating immersive brand experiences and generating new types of content
  • Reaching new audiences by opening up novel channels for digital marketing

The real business value of spatial computing will be attained when organizations successfully reinvent workflows rather than just optimizing or enhancing them.

What Are Some Use Cases?

For office workers, spatial computing will enhance workflows by providing an infinite number of virtual displays, enabling them to view multiple documents, spreadsheets, slide decks, or images without using multiple monitors, projectors, or other displays. Engineers and industrial designers will have an enriched ability to manipulate 3D models virtually. For example, an appliance designer would be able to walk around a virtual version of a refrigerator prototype to assess its aesthetics and see how it would look in different types of virtual kitchens.

Other spatial computing use cases include:

  • Real-time virtual training for new hires and reskilling employees
  • Real-time remote assistance: a technician in the field can see 3D renditions and documents, as well as share real-time images with a remote expert for collaboration
  • Assisting employees with parts assembly and quality control in manufacturing settings
  • Using digital twins to lay out office or factory spaces
  • Data visualizations that enable employees to view data in 3D rather than on 2D screens
  • Video conferencing in which the participants would appear to be in the same room, creating a more natural, interactive experience.

For B2C companies, spatial computing provides new product opportunities for more immersive video gaming without screens or consoles, media viewing without screens, and new interfaces for digital content.

What Are the Challenges in Adopting Spatial Computing?

Businesses considering adopting spatial computing technologies should consider the various challenges they pose. Depending on use cases, these challenges may include:

  • Lack of certainty about ROI for investments in specialized hardware and IT infrastructure
  • Education and training of the workforce
  • User acceptance of technologies
  • Virtual reality headsets can cause discomfort or nausea, so they will not be appropriate for all employees or customers
  • Impact of disruptions to established workflows
  • Effects on company or workplace culture
  • Security, privacy, and legal concerns about user data collection

Spatial computing for business is an emerging technology that will continue to develop over time. We’re excited to continue to follow this technology and see how it can improve productivity and growth.