On January 18, the University of New Brunswick announced the creation of a brand-new spatial computing lab. The university’s Spatial Computing Education, Training and Research Laboratory (SPECTRAL) was financially backed by both the public and private sectors. The creation of SPECTRAL displays UNB’s desire to innovate in aerospace technology and incentivize the growth of local businesses.
The Government of Canada officiated the investment of $823,125 into the establishment of SPECTRAL. The grant was conceded by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), a federal body dedicated to the incentive of economic growth in the region.
Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Official Languages, was present at the press conference through which these arrangements were made public. She, who is also in charge of ACOA, said: “We are committed to driving economic growth in Atlantic Canada. The University of New Brunswick’s Spatial Computing Education, Training & Research Laboratory will help maximize opportunities in the spatial computing industry and meet growing demand in the global aerospace sector, benefitting our economy for years to come.”
According to UNB’s press release, the funding was obtained through ACOA’s Regional Economic Growth through Innovation (REGI) program. It supports “projects that promote sustainable community economic development, enhance business development and growth, and facilitate innovation.”
Dr. Scott Bateman, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick, is in charge of SPECTRAL.
“Spatial computing is all about making use of physical space to be able to do a wide range of computing tasks, whether it is for your everyday computing or specialized things you may want to do,” Bateman explained.
“So spatial computing takes a broad view of how we can do that with technology,” he explained. “It includes things like virtual reality, where you’re in a totally immersed virtual environment, working with totally virtual things, right from playing games, or training on how to fly an airplane, or learning how to do surgery.”
Virtual reality, however, is not the only iteration of spatial computing: “It also includes augmented reality where we take digital information and we place that digital information in the real world.”
Bateman’s perspective is that there is a lot that the New Brunswick economy and UNB itself can gain from SPECTRAL.
“We are finding that there is an increasing number of positions, both in New Brunswick and outside of New Brunswick, where people are looking for [spatial computing] skills.”
“There are not many places in Canada where you can get those skills,” says Bateman. “That is going to benefit both our students and the university because it will be particularly appealing.”
Aside from federal funding, UNB’s SPECTRAL also earned significant backing from Kognitiv Spark. The Fredericton-based firm has pledged $150,000 towards the development of SPECTRAL, as well as an additional $410,000 in-kind contribution. Bateman says that Kognitiv Spark has “been a really close partner, and we have a sort of friendship with them.”
“They have been an investor in SPECTRAL because they want to see it grow,” he explains. Aside from that, Kognitiv Spark also gives guidance to research and benefits to students that exited the program.