What is Spatial Computing?
What is the story of the term that Apple used to describe the next big computing paradigm in the Apple Vision Pro?
It’s wonderful that I can finally talk about Spatial Computing, having been immersed in it for over 30 years. Without violating my NDAs, I’m going to let you in on a few secrets that probably shouldn’t be secrets.
I joined my first startup in 1992, driving cross-country in a station wagon after meeting my new CEO online. Bob Jacobson had previously co-founded the Human Interface Technology (HIT) lab at the University of Washington along with Tom Furness, who is widely recognized as the “grandfather of VR.” Bob recalls the term Spatial Computing being used at the HIT Lab prior to 1992. We definitely used it at our startup around 1992, including as the title of an article by Dr. Sandra Helsel, for a Virtual Worlds magazine. I’m happy to credit the HIT Lab if that’s Bob’s memory.
Worldesign, Inc. was our spin-off, an early attempt to build a boutique design business for VR in 1992, which in hindsight was a tad bit premature. We came up with amazing ideas. People like Neal Stephenson hung out with us. But the company ran out of money after hiring too many staff when the contracts weren’t exactly rolling in. I wound up living in the office, basically unpaid, while we tried to turn things around.
What did I know? This was my first long-term job, after a few internships. We got a life-line of $30k to build a demo for a casino attraction. But it didn’t save the company, alas. It did open a new door for me to my next gig at Disney. And that helped bring me back around to Spatial Computing at Microsoft (HoloLens) and Apple (Vision Pro) years later.
The term Spatial Computing surfaced again around 2003 in Simon Greenwold’s 2003 thesis. That’s as far as the Wikipedia currently goes. It’s pretty sparse, unfortunately.
So what does the term mean? For a simple working definition from a 30-year veteran of this term, we might say:
Humans naturally learn to sense and act in the space around us. Computers should learn to interact with us in our environment instead of humans…