Spatial Computing Vs. Volumetric Computing

Published September 15, 2023
Contemporary Commerce

A few months ago in June, Apple debuted the new Vision Pro with its accompanying visionOS (or xrOS) operating system. This technology is a major step forward in computing and offers new opportunities for all to explore new ways to work, create, communicate, and educate. But there’s been another technology that’s advancing and looking to take a different approach: Volumetric Computing.

What Is Volumetric Computing?

Simply put, volumetric computing is spatial computing without a visual overlay or headset. While Spatial Computing and Volumetric Computing are both forms of 3D computers, Spatial Computing takes place in the virtual/augmented world while volumetric computing takes place in the real world without a headset. Apple’s approach to third-dimensional computing is through the Vision Pro system, expected to launch for consumers and businesses by Spring of 2024. However, Voxon Photonics is looking to bring Volumetric Computing to the forefront with its volumetric display system.

Voxon's VX1 displaying a mechanical engine.
Voxon's VX1 displaying a mechanical engine.

Voxon Photonics Volumetric Display System

Voxon Photonics Incorporated was launched in 2013 and is said to be the first company to “[create] the world’s first volumetric display.” Voxon’s first volumetric display system is the VX1, which works by using a “high-speed reciprocating screen” to create a 3D image without the need for a headset, special glasses, or parallax barrier display (like ASUS’ 3D Laptop displays or Nintendo’s 3DS). A high-speed reciprocating screen means a thin display that oscillates up and down at a superfast speed, 4000 times a second in the VX1’s case.

To get a better idea of how this works we can think of those old, bulky CRT TVs we used years ago. CRTs worked by shooting a beam to the front of the TV line by line, drawing an image. The lines were drawn one by one so fast that it created the illusion of a full image to the naked eye. In a similar way, Voxon’s reciprocating, or oscillating screen, draws images in a 3D space so fast that it creates the illusion of a full 3D object (or objects) to the naked eye.

Footage demonstrating this effect by “The Slo Mo Guys” on YouTube.

While we are familiar with displays showing vivid and life-like images, Voxon’s volumetric displays work differently at the moment. These work off of “voxels”, points placed in a 3D space to create an image like vectors do for 2D images. Its up to the developer to determine how lifelike the image will be, but they are still capable of being incredibly detailed.

Footage demonstrating Voxon’s volumetric display doing live communications on YouTube.

Voxon's VX1 displaying Star Wars' X-Wing Spacecraft.
Voxon's VX1 displaying Star Wars' X-Wing Spacecraft.

Who Is Volumetric Computing & Displays For?

Like any technology in early development, it’s hard to fully see where its application and usefulness will grow until a wide variety of developers and creators have full access. On the other hand, it’s good to see that Voxon has already carved out a niche for its Volumetric Computers. Right now, this technology seems to be especially useful in mathematics, simulation, topography (very useful for architecture, construction, and land planning), engineering, and medicine (VX1 systems are capable of displaying DICOM data files, the file format used to store a variety of medical images like MRI & CT Scans).

This is beneficial for giving medical professionals and students more perspective on these medical scans instead of having to rely on examining several layers of 2D images on a traditional display. The visual data can be easily and quickly scaled and rotated for faster and better examinations in real time without headsets or special glasses.

But Voxon’s visions are further than just work, communications, or productivity! Japan’s Taito Corporation, owner of the Space Invaders game, gave license to Voxon to create the multiplayer holographic video game: Space Invaders — Next Dimension. This game features a full 3D holographic, high-speed arcade experience for players unlike any existing arcade units or video game console.

Again, the technology still looks to be in the R&D phase and needs more time to develop (and come down in price) before being mass-produced for its chosen applications, whether in productivity or entertainment. However, these Volumetric Computers may remain restricted to specialized use depending on what Voxon’s executives and investors decide is best for their target market and the company’s future.

Voxon’s volumetric showcasing 3D X-ray imaging.

Where Does Spatial Computing Stand Compared to Volumetric Computing and Displays?

For now, it looks like Spatial Computing will be the dominant way everyday people like us will engage with 3D computers and operating systems. Most people are familiar with Virtual and Augmented Reality headsets, and it looks like Apple’s target market is ready to adopt the technology. Developers seem happy and excited to work with Spatial Computing too. But who knows how the future will turn out?

Yes, Apple has already demonstrated Vision Pro’s use in education, productivity, communications, and entertainment. (They set the stage years ago when developers had access to RealityKit & ARKit to develop augmented reality apps and experiences on iPhone and iPad). But this doesn’t mean that volumetric displays and Volumetric Computers don’t have a shot at turning the 3D computer business on its head! Voxon’s volumetric displays may have something to offer that we can’t imagine yet, and it will be up to developers to create something their respective markets will respond to.

Ultimately, it’s still too early to say what will happen with these two technologies. Apple’s Vision Pro hasn’t hit the market yet and 3D computing is still in its infancy. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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