Spatial Computing – the next natural step
According to Google, “Spatial Computing is a set of ideas and technologies that will transform our lives by understanding the physical world, knowing and communicating our relation to places in that world, and navigating through those places.”
Large organizations use spatial computing for site selection, asset tracking, facility management, navigation, and logistics. Self-driving cars, robots, drones (especially ones that map out the world at some level) are just a few examples of current use of spatial computing. Also, Google will soon introduce spatial computing to smartphones, in the introduction of Tango sensors that map out the world.
At the same time, mixed reality glasses use spatial computing. Microsoft Hololens is showing us spatial computing and the four video cameras on that product that map out the real world are what bring us both spatial computing and mixed reality. Magic Leap is preparing to launch products in the next year months, and has $1.3 billion invested in it so far by a group of companies led by Google and Baidu. What’s great about both products is they let you walk around the real world and see virtual items placed on them.
Additionally, scientists use Global Navigation Satellite Systems (such as the global positioning system, or GPS) to track endangered species and better understand animal behavior, while farmers use these technologies to support precision agriculture to increase crop yields and reduce costs.
Virtual globes (such as Google Earth and NASA World Wind) help teach schoolchildren about their local neighborhoods and the world beyond in an engaging and interactive way. This is how children learn about the Wini Seamount near Hawaii, extraterrestrial landscapes on Mars and the Moon, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
Moreover, in the wake of recent natural disasters (such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012), Google Earth has allowed millions of people to access imagery to help disaster-response-and recovery services. Within days of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, post-disaster roadmaps had been created thanks to citizen volunteers submitting timely local information to the popular volunteered geographic information13 website OpenStreetMaps.
In the coming decade, spatial computing promises a great number of transformative capabilities. For example, where route finding today is based on shortest travel time or distance, companies are experimenting with eco-routing, finding routes that minimize fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. Smart routing that avoids left turns saves delivery company UPS more than three million gallons of fuel annually. Such savings can be multiplied many times over when eco-routing services are available for consumers, as well as fleet owners, including public transportation.
Work in spatial computing has been extensive in recent decades, particularly in the geographic context, and spatial computing promises an impressive range of opportunities for researchers and entrepreneurs alike. Successfully harnessing this potential will require significant intellectual investment and related funding of spatial computing research topics, but we’re on the right path.
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