The evolution of AR: from the 60’s to the future

July 19, 2017

With the enormous success of ‘Pokémon GO’ in the summer of 2016, many were first introduced to the concept of smartphone apps that extend past their mobile screen and weave into the real world, otherwise known as augmented reality. But the fact of the matter is, augmented reality is anything but new – the initial steps towards where we are today actually began to sprout as far back as the late 1960’s. Since then, each new development of the technology has brought ground-breaking software, hardware, and applications to the surface that have helped in pushing AR further forward.

The Sword of Damocles (1968)


Acclaimed computer scientist Ivan Sutherland developed what is widely considered to be one of the first AR and VR head-mounted display systems in 1968, which allowed the user to look around the room in reality and also see simple wireframe shapes that moved with the users head thanks to its primitive yet functional head-tracking ability. The apparent weight of the device was said to be so much that it had to be hung from the ceiling in order for it to be used.

The Videoplace (1974)

Computer artist Myron Krueger developed an artificial reality system in his laboratory that instead of using goggles, screens, or gloves instead utilized projectors and video cameras to transfer the actions of users into colored silhouettes that could interact with each other virtual objects. The project can still be experienced today, with it being on permanent display at the State Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut.

Virtual Fixtures (1992)

Virtual Fixtures

Virtual Fixtures was a project developed by technologist Louis Rosenberg in the early 1990’s for the US Air Force. It consisted of robots that were controlled by an exoskeleton worn by the user, alongside a head-mounted display that could display simulated barriers and guides. The system was created for the military to be able to perform complex tasks from a remote area.

ARToolKit (1999)

Initially developed by university professor Hirokazu Kato, the ARToolKit is a tracking library that is able to calculate camera positions and orientations in relation to a physical marker in real-time. The software was one of the first implemented into smart phone applications in 2005, and is still widely used and maintained as an open-source project today.

Volkswagen MARTA App (2013)

Volkswagen MARTA App

The Volkswagen company was one of the first major manufacturers to implement AR into their services, with the release of their Mobile Augmented Reality Technical Assistance – or MARTA – app for smart phones. The app shows service employees where and how to repair a Volkswagen vehicle, with each task being shown in real-time on the screen along with the necessary equipment.

Google Glass (2014)

The controversial optical head-mounted display from global tech giant Google allows the wearer to access information such as events and weather as well as capture images and record video using its built-in camera. The software also allows for third-party applications that enable face recognition, translation, social networking, and even exercise. While the device didn’t pick up in popularity among the general public, it gained a niche within the field of healthcare for professionals to quickly access patient information at any time.

Pokémon GO (2016)

While AR (and VR) had been steadily growing in popularity among a growing number of investors and developers – investment for both met $700 million in 2015 – the general public remained unfazed until the release of popular game ‘Pokémon GO’ was released. Its influence spurred on more developers to knuckle down and get serious with the medium, and an influx of AR style smartphone applications began to flood the app stores hoping to ride on its coat tails.

ARKit (2017)

Apple announced their first serious step into the world of AR with ARKit, their framework that allows developers to easily create seamless and unparalleled AR experiences for their products using the iOS 11 platform. The software introduces new elements to mobile AR in order to improve its accuracy, such as lighting estimation, scene understanding, rendering optimizations, and accurate motion tracking.

As we look towards the future of AR, its star is only looking to grow brighter. With the global rollout of iOS 11 and its embedded ARKit software in summer 2017, accurate and realistic AR applications are expected to be released and adopted at an increasingly rapid pace. What will emerge as the next big thing as we head towards 2020? Only time will tell!

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