The past, present and future of augmented reality

Serving as President on the Board of Directors for AITP Atlanta certainly has its benefits – one of which is arranging for the discussion leaders for our monthly chapter meetings. Having the opportunity to talk with these local Atlanta technology professionals and hearing about the current and future trends in their respective areas is always exciting.

This month though was extra special as Margaret Posthauer, CEO and founder of CN2 who joined us five years ago, agreed to join us again to share her insights and updates on Augmented Reality…and it was amazing to learn about the advancements over that period!

Time for a history lesson

Let’s start with a little bit about the history of virtual reality (VR):

  • The Sensorama: In 1965, we see the first VR device, Morton Helig’s Sensorama. The Sensorama was a device where you could watch movies, smell smells, the chair would move and up to four people could sit in it. Personally, the Sensorama sounds a lot like those VR rides at Disney World.
  • The first VR Headset: In 1985, Scott Fisher starts using a VR headset for NASA training.
  • The first VR bubble: In 1992, the first VR bubble is born. Users could put the headsets on and move their arms around the VR landscape. The first VR bubbles tended to be in commercial environments. Eventually, these commercial bubbles were recreated for use in homes.
  • VR training and simulation: We still see a lot of VR trainings and simulations today. A great example is military trainings and flight simulations for pilots. These trainings give the user access to a landscape that would otherwise be difficult to recreate.
  • Consumer targeted VR headset: In 2006, the Oculus headset emerged, bringing VR headsets into users’ homes.

Now let’s talk about augmented reality’s history:

  • The Ultimate Display: In 1967, Ivan Sutherland created “the Ultimate Display.” However, this machine wasn’t usable because, if you went on it, it just might kill you. It was a giant headset attached to a computer.
  • Augmented reality for maintenance: In 1993, Steve Feiner and Blair Macintyre started working on augmented reality for the maintenance of machinery. So, this was the very early stage of self-guided work.
  • The Touring Machine: In 1997, Feiner and Macintyre are joined by Tobias Hollerer and created the Touring Machine. It was the first mobile augmented reality.
  • The yellow first-down line: In 1998, augmented reality makes its first appearance in football with the yellow first down line. This was accomplished by placing cameras all around the field with a seven-second delay to the audience.
  • The Tinmith System: In 2002, we brought 3D content into augmented reality. Now it’s no longer just 2D lines and shapes. Users can visualize and manipulate 3D options.
  • Kinect Fusion: Kinect brought augmented reality into stores without the use of headsets. The technology utilizes cameras to enable users to interact with their content. Think of going to the eye doctor and being able to test the frames you want without having to put them on. Snapchat and Instagram filters are another great example of this technology.
  • The iPhone: Who remembers when Pokémon Go came to the app store? Well, that was one of the first times that augmented reality was available on a mobile device. Now, of course, we have augmented reality capabilities on iOS, Androids and tablets.
  • Wearable augmented reality: This technology enables the user to use augmented reality technology hands-free through glasses, headset display devices and so much more.

Use cases of augmented reality

  • Learning & Development: At Synergis, we work a lot in the Learning & Development (L&D) space. Augmented reality adds an interactive experience to training. So, instead of watching courses that teach someone how to do something, AR enables the user to step through day-to-day tasks and situations that might occur.
  • Operational insights: Through the use of sensors and augmented reality, you can gain real-time insight into your systems and equipment to ensure everything is operating correctly. If there’s an issue with your system, augmented reality can notify you quickly as well as identify what part is causing the issue to ensure that it is fixed quickly and safely.
  • The healthcare industry: Like in a warehouse or with engineering equipment, AR can give users operational insights. AR is also being used to develop drug administrating devices. AR is a great tool for training healthcare professionals on different or new equipment in their facilities as well.

Obstacles to mass adoption

There has been a lot of excitement around augmented reality and rightfully so. But why aren’t we seeing it in our everyday lives? Here are some of the obstacles we see to mass adoption:

  1. Cost: The technology to produce true augmented reality is expensive. So, while we can access many of the benefits on our smartphones or computers at a relatively low cost, (sometimes even free) the same can’t be said for the high-end headsets. The headsets, that are used for trainings and operational insights, can be a bit pricy making them harder for organizations to add to their budget.
  2. The form factors/devices: While we have made large strides since the Ultimate Display or the Sensorama, many AR devices are still bulky or can feel a bit strange. Also, many of the headsets or glasses need to be tethered to a device making them difficult to move around freely. Of course, we have seen great strides in the development of untethered devices, but there is still room to grow.
  3. Lack of large consumer demand: While AR, VR and Machine Learning are cool to talk about, we haven’t yet seen a huge demand for these products. According to eMarketer, in 2019, only 13% of the population used VR and only 20.8% utilized AR at least once a month. It is thought that as Gen Zers and Millennials make up the majority of the population the demand may grow, as they’re already more comfortable with this type of technology.

Now what about XR?

XR stands for Extended Reality. And it’s a combination of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. AR is dependent on the real world. If you’re a football fan, think of the yellow down line when you’re watching a game on your TV. The yellow line would just be a yellow line without the context of the football game around it.

In contrast, VR completely immerses the user in a virtual experience. There is no association between the real world.

 The Future of XR

To further the usability of XR, we’re going to see it coupled with AI and Machine Learning. It’s happening right now all around us. The future of XR is being able to take your mobile device, glasses or really any form factor and point it at something in the space around you to gain useful information. Whether that be to identify the type of flower in your yard, your dog’s breed or part of a computer, XR technology would be able to give you valuable insights.

While there is still a lot to unfold for the future of augmented reality and extended reality, there is an exciting journey ahead of us in this space.


About the author

Steven Wright serves as a Senior Account Executive for Synergis and volunteers his time as President of the Atlanta chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals. Steve has had a career in technology, spanning more than 25 years.  He has always served in an advisory, and relationship development capacity, working within sales and business development groups for healthcare technology outsourcing, manufacturing, professional service, and, most recently, the staffing industry. In his free time, Steve enjoys learning about new and emerging technologies. This love of tech has helped him aid clients and candidates alike in their career and talent journeys.

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