Augmented Reality (AR) has been around for longer than most people realise – numerous decades in fact. The recent advances in augmented reality and the growth in investments in the field give evidence that AR could soon be the next big commercial commodity.
There can be some confusion between augmented reality and virtual reality, so here’s a simple and easy to remember distinction. Virtual Reality is a computer-generated simulation that makes the user of the device feel as though they are in a different world. Augmented reality combines the real world we currently live in with virtual elements. The computer-generated augmentations are projected on top of reality.
So the two are not mutually exclusive and the combination of the two is theoretically meant to enhance one another.
When looking at the history of the development of AR there are lots of cross overs with the development of VR…
The first AR technology (also cited as the first VR technology) was developed in 1968 at Harvard when computer scientist Ivan Sutherland (named the “father of computer graphics”) created an AR head-mounted display system.
One of the next big developments in augmented reality was in 1974 by Myron Krueger. The project was called, Videoplace, which combined a projection system and video cameras that produced shadows on the screen. This setup made the user feel as though they were in an interactive environment.
In 1990, a Boeing researcher named Tom Caudell coined the term “Augmented Reality”.
In 1992, Louis Rosenburg from the USAF Armstrong’s Research Lab created the first real operational AR system, Virtual Fixtures. This system placed information on top of the workers work environment to help with efficiency.
In 1994, the first theatre production to use augmented reality was created. “Dancing in Cyberspace” presented acrobats dancing in and around virtual objects on stage as a piece of art was produced by Julie Martin.
In the following decades, lab universities, companies, and national agencies further advanced AR for wearables and digital displays.
An important advancement in the AR technology happened in 2000 when Hirokazu Kato from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan created and released software called ARToolKit. Through this software, one could capture real-world actions and combine it with interactions of virtual objects.
Through the use of a camera and the Internet, users experience this augmented reality. Like many of these inventions from the past, this heavily influenced what we experience today.
The first commercial AR application appeared in 2008. It was developed for advertising purposes by German agencies in Munich. They designed a printed magazine ad of a model BMW Mini, which, when held in front of a computer’s camera, also appeared on the screen. Because the virtual model was connected to markers on the physical ad, a user was able to control the car on the screen and move it around to view different angles, simply by manipulating the piece of paper. The application was one of the first marketing campaigns that allowed interaction with a digital model in real time.
Other brands started adopting this idea of situating content on a screen and having consumers interact with it such as National Geographic in 2011, which showed rare or extinct animal species as if they were walking through a shopping mall; Coca-Cola in 2013, which also simulated environmental problems, such as ice melting right beside you in a shopping mall; and Disney in 2011, which showed cartoon characters on a large screen in Times Square interacting with people on the street.
In 2014, Google revealed the Google Glass but it wasn’t as successful as hoped despite pointing in the right direction for wearable AR. Instead of using the Glass to scroll through social media and other applications, factory workers used the technology to help with everyday work. It helped walk the workers through their daily tasks and be more productive and efficient.
In 2016, Microsoft introduces the next iteration of wearable augmented reality. The HoloLens seems to be everything that the Google glass wanted to be, but certainly not as discreet and wearable in everyday life and is undoubtedly more expensive. The technology advancement between the two is unquestionable, but so is the price (in excess of $3,000).
There are hundreds of examples of cool AR apps, tools and innovations out there. Doing cool things with technology certainly gets people’s attention, but what about creating something genuinely useful from AR? This sense of real value still seems to be lacking in today’s AR landscape…but that may change really soon.
Augmented reality has recently infiltrated the gaming world. The Nintendo 3DS comes with AR Cards that trigger integrated AR games. The global success of Pokémon Go arguably changed how people view AR – having generated over $1.2bn in revenue globally since its launch last July, and notched 752m downloads. It made marketers and advertisers sit up and take mobile gaming seriously. Players were literally being led about the world by a mobile game. The opportunity for brands was becoming much more clear.
Snapchat has even created its own AR games that are built right into the app. The use of facial gestures controls all your movements in each game.
AR is currently pretty good with static objects and all things ‘known’. The next big step for augmented reality is to focus on ‘moving’ and ‘unknown’ targets. It may soon be possible when you’re watching the marathon to hold up your smartphone and track how fast they’re running with real-time stats.
This gives us a glimpse into possible future uses of AR technology.
Waving a smartphone or tablet in front of an object is already producing some truly inspiring results for current AR users, but it doesn’t always seem like the most practical way of doing things – it would seem that a pair of AR-enabled glasses would be a lot easier to use.
We are already seeing some steps towards non-smartphone/tablet augmented reality consumer hardware. The ‘world’s first GPS enabled goggle‘, aimed at snowboarders, is already available, which displays key data on the inside of the user’s field of view, such as speed, distance, temperature and location:
So, augmented reality has the potential to affect all industries and walks of life, from advertising and marketing, to gaming and medicine.
The next five years should see some significant advances in AR technology, and you can expect to see it become far more integrated in our everyday lives. And that’s the real challenge – seamlessly merging the digital and physical worlds. We will then start to see that all important missing ‘real value’ element drive the technology forward.