What Is Spatial Computing? Definition, Applications, and Careers

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Explore what you can do in spatial computing and how to get started in this field.

[Featured Image] Two co-workers sit next to each other at a desk and collaborate on a shared computer in an open office space.

What is spatial computing?

Spatial computing is an emerging technology that brings together digital and physical worlds, allowing users to interact with computers in more seamless and immersive ways. Spatial computing is an umbrella term that encompasses concepts like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as well as the related concepts mixed reality and extended reality. Let’s address the distinctions between these terms: 

  • Virtual reality (VR): A fully immersive visual environment that blocks the view of real environments and replaces it with a virtual one.

  • Augmented reality (VR): Digital content is transposed onto the real world while still allowing visibility of the real world environment.

  • Mixed reality (MR): Digital content is transposed onto a view of the real world, while allowing the elements to interact with one another.

  • Extended reality (XR): An umbrella term that includes VR, AR, and MR.

Read more: Virtual Reality (VR) Terms: A to Z Glossary

With spatial computing technology, machines can learn about physical spaces and collect data on how humans behave and move around in physical space. With this data, machines can optimize and automate human processes. 

For example, imagine a “smart building” with cameras and sensors that track how people move, from a conference room to offices to lobbies to the cafeteria, and so forth. The system then analyzes the data and signals the building’s controls to adjust lighting and temperature in unoccupied spaces to save energy.  

How does spatial computing work?

The technology behind spatial computing that enables it to blend the digital and physical world is fascinating. Let’s explore some of the specific technologies behind it: 

  • Computer vision: When software can understand the content of an image (what it would mean to a human) instead of just reading an image’s pixels 

  • Sensor fusion: When a machine combines sensory data from multiple sensors, like cameras or GPS  

  • Spatial mapping: When a machine creates a 3D map of an area using data captured by cameras or sensors

  • Haptic feedback systems: When a device communicates with humans with a tactile experience, such as a phone vibrating when a call comes through

  • Machine learning (ML): When a system gathers and analyzes spatial data to find patterns and automate processes  

  • Edge computing: When data is processed physically close to where it’s being used—the “edge” of a network—rather than sending data to a central data processing center 

  • Robotics: When robots use spatial data to move around and perform tasks, and even enhance remote work with “surrogate” robots 

  • Internet of Things (IoT): When a network of physical devices uses spatial data to understand a physical environment and enhance humans’ experiences

Read more: What Is a Digital Twin? Definition, Types, and Uses

Spatial computing headsets

A common way to experience what spatial computing offers is to use a VR headset. A headset is a piece of hardware that slips over your eyes and is held in place by a band or straps around the back of your head. It then projects a virtual view. Your view changes as motion sensors detect where you’re looking when you move your head or change directions. Headsets may feature eye tracking, hand-gesture recognition, and voice recognition capabilities to make your experience as natural and intuitive as possible. 

Some of the headsets offered by major brands include:

  • Apple Vision Pro: A spatial operating system device that you can navigate using your hands, eyes, and voice to enjoy entertainment, apps, games, photos, videos, video conversations, and more   

  • Microsoft HoloLens: A holographic device for use in the workplace that helps enterprise-level organizations collaborate, featuring hand-tracking, voice commands, eye-tracking, and spatial mapping.

  • Meta Quest Pro: An MR headset connecting teams, individuals, creators, and loved ones, and enabling an immersive experience in gaming, entertainment, the workplace, and more. 

  • Magic Leap: An AR device for the workplace that enables a remote AR collaboration experience, including remote assistance and lifesize overlay, for enterprise-level organizations. 

How much is Apple Vision Pro? 

Several sources in the tech world—including Forbes, MacRumors, CNet, and Tech Crunch—report that the Apple Vision Pro, slated to release in early 2024, will come with a price tag of $3,499. The official webpage for the Apple Vision Pro does not currently list the price. You can sign up to get notifications about this spatial computer.  


What can you do in spatial computing?

As spatial computing becomes more widespread, it can enhance our lives in a variety of ways, making our hobbies, passions, educational experiences, and jobs more immersive. Let’s explore the range of possibilities:


Take the fastest, most direct route to your destination using location-based service apps like Waze or Google Maps that determine your location and provide relevant information like nearby gas stations, restaurants, and traffic congestion. 


Download a stargazing app like SkySafari or Night Sky and point your phone at a segment of the sky to learn more about stars and constellations. 

Virtual home design

Use a 3D home designer app like Homestyler to envision the look and layout of your interior space before you make changes. 


Immerse yourself in 3D environments and experience gaming worlds as though you are actually in them. Manipulate virtual objects and move about in these worlds with the use of voice commands, motion sensors, and haptic feedback. 

Health and fitness

Enhance physical performance by tracking your movements and analyzing them for ways you can improve your athletic activity. 

Virtual shopping 

“Try on” clothing virtually or see how products might look in your environment before you buy them. 

Spectator sports

Watch your favorite sports team virtually from a specific vantage point, like the 50-yard line of a football game or courtside at a basketball game.


Learn concepts, subjects, and skills in immersive environments with 3D models, simulations, and virtual “group” activities. 

Industrial factory settings 

Digitize physical space to analyze workers’ movement patterns, interactions with machines, and how long they spend on individual tasks. Then use this information to optimize their processes. 

Health care 

Improve the safety and accuracy of surgical procedures, train medical students, consult with patients, and conduct clinical trials.

Architecture and design

Create immersive design models that allow clients and stakeholders to understand a proposed design better before making decisions. 

Data science

Collect data that has a geographical or spatial component and use approaches from data science, computer science, statistics, machine learning, automation, and artificial intelligence to solve complex spatial problems. 

How to get into spatial computing

With all the possibilities that spatial computing enables, becoming more involved in this field—for fun or to launch a career—can offer many rewards, from finding job opportunities to exploring your passions in ways you’ve only imagined. Here are some actionable steps you can take to get started in spatial computing: 

Experience spatial computing as a user.

Have fun with this first step as you gain insights into what this technology is capable of. While some of the headsets, glasses, and wearable sensors might be expensive to purchase, you may be able to find ways to access these devices for free or low cost:

  • AR and VR experiences at art galleries or tech events 

  • AR and VR product demos in stores 

  • Apps on your smartphone like Google AR and VR

  • MR community networking events 

Take spatial computing courses and bootcamps.

To deepen your spatial computing knowledge for both personal and professional purposes, watch online trainings, such as Apple’s video series on spatial computing or XR Bootcamp’s beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes in AR, VR, and MR. 

Also consider courses in skills related to spatial computing, such as:

  • 3D creation tools: Unreal Engine, Unity, ARCore, ARKit, and WebXR

  • Design tools: 3D modeling/design, animation, sound design, wireframing 

  • Data analysis and machine learning: TensorFlow, scikit-learn, PyTorch

To thrive in spatial computing, you’ll also need workplace skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity, as well as technical skills from other fields like project management


Research jobs in spatial computing.

Start exploring career possibilities by seeing what roles companies are hiring for. Given that spatial technology is an emerging field, job titles may vary from one company or industry to the next, so read job listings carefully for mentions of “spatial technology, ” even if the titles themselves don’t mention it. 

Here are some job titles, based on actual listings in November 2023, to get you started:

Spatial computing prototyper: Collaborates with artists and engineers to create new user experiences, drawing upon skills in Python, C++, VR/AR, game design, 3D design, and a relevant degree.

Spatial computing developer: Develops spatial computing applications, drawing upon skills in C++ and other programming languages. 

Spatial computing specialist solutions architect: Advises on AR/VR strategy, builds architectures, prototypes, delivers workshops, drawing upon skills in 3D development, immersive applications, and large-scale computing. 

Geospatial research software engineer: Develops software for geospatial research, drawing upon skills in C++, Python, GIS models, scientific writing, teaching, and advanced degree.

Spatial web engineer: Works with web technologies used in spatial interfaces following W3C standards, drawing upon skills in software development, C/C++, front-end web programming, and relevant degree. 

Earn credentials. 

To land a job in spatial computing, you may need specific credentials or education that demonstrate your expertise in this field. Universities are beginning to offer degrees in spatial computing, spatial data science, and spatial information science, as well as spatial computing coursework as part of degree programs in broader subject areas. Depending on your goals, you can also consider getting a degree in one of these areas:

  • Human computer interaction

  • Product design

  • Visual design

  • Game design

  • Film

  • Computer science

If you already have a degree and want to add a credential in spatial computing (or related area) to your resume, consider a Professional Certificate or certification. Here are a few possibilities to explore: 

What’s the future of spatial computing?

This field is growing! According to Market.us, the global spatial computing market is expected to reach $620.2 billion by 2032, up from an estimated $124.6 billion in 2023 [1]. As the technology expands, be on the lookout for how AR, VR, and MR become more mainstream and accessible to everyone, from developers, engineers, and early adopters to hobbyists and creators. 


Explore VR, AR, and more with Coursera

Consider Coursera’s online learning experiences to stay at the forefront of emerging technologies and envision a future with them. Explore these options: 

Article sources

  1. Market.us. “Spatial computing market, https://market.us/report/spatial-computing-market/.” Accessed November 27, 2023.

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