A brief history of augmented reality

A brief history of augmented reality v2

I first came across augmented reality whilst working at a previous company and I was preparing for a large exhibition.  The agency I had met with to discuss our plans for the exhibition, demonstrated augmented reality to me for the first time. I was blown away.  For me this was futuristic stuff, something out of back to the future and certainly something I had never seen or heard of before.

This was only a few years ago.

I thought it was brand-spanking new, but I was wrong. And it wasn’t until starting at Ads Reality this year that I discovered how far back the concept of augmented reality actually goes.

Early reference

In fact, the earliest reference I stumbled across, was all the way back in 1901. In his novel ‘The Master Key’, L. Frank Baum introduces the reader to the concept of AR (although it didn’t have this name then). He describes a gift the central character receives from a demon.  This gift was called the Character Marker, which was a pair of glasses which marked people’s foreheads with a letter that indicated their character (such as an ‘E’ if they were evil).

That was it.  I wanted to learn more and I began researching the history of augmented reality.

It has been completely fascinating looking into the origins of AR and how far it has come. It is amazing to think how a few incredibly clever people have made this technology possible and exciting to see how it will continue to evolve.

A handy infographic…

History of augmented reality Timeline Infographic

READ MORE: 6 Interesting facts about augmented reality you need to read now 

The history of augmented reality

1901 – First recorded reference to AR was made by the author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum. He describes a gift called the ‘Character Marker’ in the novel The Master Key.

1952 – Cinematographer, Morton Heilig, starts creating the world’s first virtual reality (VR) machine which was called the Sensorama Machine.

1962 – Morton Heilig, patents the Sensorama Machine.

1968Ivan Sutherland creates first head-mounted display system and its given the nickname ‘The Sword of Damocles’ due to its weight.

1974 – Computer Artist and Researcher, Myron Krueger, builds Videoplace an ‘artificial reality’ lab that surrounds users in an interactive environment

1982 – Software Engineer, Dan Reitan and his team create RADAR the first interactive AR system shown on TV, creating video images for weather stations.

1990 – Boeing Researcher, Tom Caudell, coins the term ‘augmented reality’ to describe the merging of virtual graphics onto a physical display

1992 – Louis Rosenberg develops one of the earliest and the first fully immersive AR systems for the AR Force.  It was called Virtual Fixtures.

1993 – KARMA, a system which used knowledge-based AR, is introduced by AR expert, Steve Feiner and a team of Columbia University students. It was used to provide instructions for repair and maintenance procedures. Fitzmaurice creates the first example of handheld AR.

1994 – The first AR theatre production is produced by Julie Martin and is called ‘Dancing in Cyberspace’.

1996 – CyberCode was created, the first AR system using 2D markers.  CyberCode would become the model for future marker-based AR systems.

1997 – Canon Inc. and the Japanese government jointly fund the largest industrial research facility for mixed reality research.  It is called the Mixed Reality Systems Laboratory.    Columbia University develops the first outdoor AR system – The Touring Machine.

1998 – NFL debuts AR during a live game, created by Sportvision.  AR is used to cast a virtual yellow first down marker.

1999 – Nasa uses AR.  NASA’s x-38 was flown utilising a special AR dashboard for navigation purposes.   Steve Mann aka ‘The father of wearable computing’ creates EyeTap. A device that worked as both a camera and a computer display.

2000 – The ARToolKit, the world’s first open-source software library, is created by Hirokazu Kato.  The world’s first outdoor AR game, ARQuake, is launched.

2001 – The Mixed Reality Systems Laboratory closes

2003 – Wagner and Schmalstieg present the first handheld AR system on a ‘personal digital assistant’. This leads the way for AR on smart devices

Augmented reality has the power to change and impact so many areas of our lives.  It has come a long way since the ‘The Sword of Damocles’ and the possibility of what is to come, seems pretty endless.


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