Little Guide to Augmented Reality Part 1

Image source:

This is Part 1 of the IntelligentHQ Guide to Augmented Reality. Over this guide we will cover its history, we will review some interesting examples of Augmented Reality projects and will look at the business opportunities AR brings us.

Through the blending of sounds, holograms, video images, 2 D images, augmented reality is everywhere and it is bringing the virtual world into the real world. The technology is exciting and gives an insight as to what the future is going to hold. Even though to some augmented reality hasn’t yet lived up to its promise  it soon will! But what is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a direct or indirect view of a real-world environment where elements are augmented by sensory that is generated by the computer. This may include sound, video or graphics, among others. The term has been knocking around fairly commonly since the early 1990s, but in fact the concept of augmented reality has existed for considerably longer. It has simply only coined this particular name since 1990 or so. Understanding the history of augmented reality helps to understand how it has developed in the way that it has.

The birth of Augmented Reality

As Dan Sung (2011) of Pocket Lint explains, the birth of augmented reality is thought to have happened in 1957:

“Morton Helig began building a machine called the Sensorama. It was designed as a cinematic experience to take in all your senses…it blew wind at you, vibrated the seat you sat on…”



This arcade shaped machine also played sounds and placed a 3D environment around the front and sides of a person’s head. This first step of augmented reality was reported to be rather spectacular, and was focused on a cycle ride through New York streets. However, it was very expensive to create film for and so it never really took off commercially.

The First Head Mounted Display

Another early implementation of augmented reality was created by Professor Ivan Sutherland who worked at Harvard University in Electrical Engineering. He developed a very useful device in augmented reality terms – the so called “head mounted display”. This type of device is still used in augmented reality today, but unfortunately Sutherland’s version was far too heavy for a person’s head to support. It was however, an important step in the development of augmented reality as we know it today.

Where does the term “augmented reality” comes from ?

It is commonly believed that the actual term “augmented reality” was spoken for the first time by Professor Tom Caudell. He worked at Boeing in Adaptive Neural Research in Seattle. In this position he began looking for ways to use virtual reality technology to improve the aviation manufacturing and engineering process. He ultimately developed software that could show to mechanics where cables had to be laid in the building process. This was more helpful for mechanics than using complex written guidelines. Concurrently, in 1992, LB Rosenberg created Virtual Fixtures, a functioning augmented reality system for the US Air Force. Also, Karma (Knowledge Based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance) was being created by Steven Feiner, Blair MacIntyre and Doree Seligmann. Their project at that time created 3D graphics of an image that showed people how to load and service a printer without referring to any manual.

ARToolKit – an open source  AR toolkit

Augmented reality was expensive and complex until the end of the last millennium, and consumers remained largely unaware of its development. This situation changed when Hirokazu Kato from the Nara Institute of science and Technology presented to the open source community the ARToolKit. This created opportunities for video capture tracking of the actual world which could be combined with virtual objects. It allowed 3D graphics to be placed over any operating server platform. This led to the development of a basic device that could be held in the hand, which had a camera and an internet connection. This was ahead of the development of the smartphone. Much augmented reality that we see today that is flash based is likely to have come about as a result of this toolkit.


AR at the turn of the millennium

At the turn of the century, from the University of South Australia’s Wearable Computer Lab, Bruce Thomas created an outdoor, mobile augmented reality video game. The user had a goal of getting rid of the monsters and guns. The player had to put a computer backpack on, use GPS sensors and a head mounted display and they would be ready to play. However, to this date the product has not yet gone to market. Subsequent to this, in 2008, augmented reality apps started being available on smartphones, allowing their users to experience different realities. Wikitude was one such app, creating the possibility for Android users to see augmented views of points of interest nearby through their mobile phone cameras.

Oculus Rift

Augmented reality is still a concept that is very early on in its development. However, many believe that things are starting to heat up, and we will be seeing more and more applications of augmented reality around us fairly soon. In Part 2 we will examine some of these in more detail.