What is Spatial Analysis?

M. McGee

Spatial analysis is an umbrella term that covers a huge range of processes in many different industries. In general, these diverse areas have one thing in common; they rely on techniques and technologies that measure the relative shape, distance and position of objects. For instance, in cartography, spatial analysis relates to the placement of cities, and roads boundaries, but in electrical engineering, it helps determine the distance of power flow and position of circuits. Even with all these various meanings, one of the most common uses of spatial analysis relates to geography and geographic information systems.

Optical encoders may be used to provide quick and accurate spatial analysis during automated manufacturing.
Optical encoders may be used to provide quick and accurate spatial analysis during automated manufacturing.

The science of spatial analysis likely originated with the creation of maps thousands of years ago. This early variety of analysis was rudimentary and inaccurate. As various other sciences improved, this science improved as well. One of the most important advancements came through improvements in geometry and mathematics. When spatial science was combined with math, accuracy improved dramatically.

Spatial analysis is still governed by math today. The vast majority of modern analysis techniques rely on mathematical and statistical modeling. These techniques use known numerical values to plot out likely progressions. These progressions are plotted in a special system, which creates a relative spatial shape. This outline, if everything worked out correctly, approximates a real-life three-dimensional design.

Some form of spatial analysis is used in nearly every branch of science, engineering and manufacturing. The techniques in this science are used whenever the relative position of objects is important to a process. For instance, the placement of a machine in a manufacturing plant, the size of a part in a car’s engine or the affect distance has on plant reproduction is all based on this science.

While these processes are important to many fields, they are pivotal to geographic sciences. Geography is based on comparing the distances between land features, both natural and man-made. Maps, a natural byproduct of studying geography, are one of the simplest spatial models available.

As geography, cartography and computers combined the geographic information system (GIS) came into being. The GIS databases are one of the largest spatial analysis projects ever attempted. These databases contain three-dimensional coordinates of millions of objects and locations.

Using these known data points, it is possible to find the relative position of nearly anything on Earth. These data points provide more than coordinates. With a basic mathematical model, it is possible to extrapolate addresses and locations. This form of spatial analysis has a direct impact on the daily lives of users through navigation and global positioning systems.

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