Reality isn’t what is used to be. With increasingly powerful technologies, the virtual scene generated by the computer is designed to enhance the user’s sensory perception of the virtual world they are seeing or interacting with.
Like most technologies that eventually reach a mass market, augmented reality (or AR), has been gestating in university labs, as well as small companies focused on gaming and vertical applications, for nearly half a century.
In 1968, Ivan Sutherland and David Evans began working together at the University of Utah. Their work in computer graphics made them VR pioneers, and the flight simulator became a particular highlight of their work. One of Sutherland’s projects was creating a virtual reality system with a head mounted display, known as the “Sword of Damocles” because of the way it hung over the viewer. As Sutherland writes in his early paper about the device, it worked right away. “Even with this relatively crude system,” he wrote, “the three-dimensional illusion was real.”
His work was followed up and advanced decades later by researchers including the University of Toronto’s Steve Mann and Columbia University’s Steven Feiner and to day is finally catching up with their concepts. AR technology has seen increased use in marketing and advertising media, education settings (museums, galleries, text books), medical sector (trainee surgeons can use augmented reality to superimpose CT scans on the image of a patient to better visualisation of the area of the body even before an incision is made).
It’s a technology that previously seemed to teeter between being a useful consumer engagement tool and cool-yet-useless gimmick. But now with the widespread use of smartphones that all have all of the GPS compasses and transmitters, cameras, data connection, great resolution screens, computation power and software required, augmented reality is coming of age.
“The goal of Augmented Reality is to create a system in which the user cannot tell the difference between the real world and virtual augmentation of it.”