Augmented Reality: History and Current Applications

Augmented Reality

AR head-mounting display smart glasses Image: Brad Boad, Flickr, All rights reserved

Augmented Reality (AR) has been around since the 1960s but has only gained its popularity in the 2000s. This essay will discuss the genesis of AR, the development of the system and the intervention of the technology in the modern era. A brief history of AR will be provided, focusing on its invention and development. Furthermore, the advancement of AR will be outlined, concentrating on how the system is being contemporarily implemented.

Augmented Reality

 Azuma et al. (2001) described AR as a system that enhances the real world with computer-generated objects that emerge to coexist in the same space as the real world. It works interactively by aligning real and virtual objects with each other in a natural environment (Azuma et al., 2001).  Boeing’s former researcher, Tom Caudell, defined AR as an overlaying computer-presented material on top of the real environment (Arth et al., 2015).

The Invention and Development of AR 

AR was first invented in 1968 by a Harvard professor,  Ivan Sutherland (Arth et al., 2015). Sutherland invented AR that uses an optical see-through ‘head-mounted display’ (Ramar et al., 2020) that could be monitored by a mechanical tracker and an ultrasonic tracker (Arth et al., 2015).

AR originated from the flight control system, where pilots were risked to make life-or-death decisions (Pesce, 2017). The technology emerged as a solution to yield pilots in faster decisions by compiling numerous data into graphics that are easily understood (Pesce, 2017).

In 1985, Warren Robinett developed a see-through display with coloured LCD displays, half-silvered mirrors as well as magnifying lenses (Holloway et al., n.d., as cited in Caudell and Mizell, 1992). Moreover, Tom Caudell developed the application of AR to manufacturing and coined the term “Augmented Reality” in 1990 (Caudell and Mizell, 1992).

In 1992, a robotic system that enhances efficiency by placing information on the work environment called Virtual Fixtures was invented by Louis Rosenburg (Ramar et al., 2020).  In the same year, NASA incorporated AR in their X-38 spacecraft (Ramar et al., 2020) with a hybrid synthetic vision system to aid and improve navigation during flight trials (Isberto, 2018).

Current Application of AR

The advancement of AR occurred in 2000 when Hirokazu Kato from Nara Institute of Technology launched the ARToolKit software (Ramar et al., 2020). The debut of the ARToolKit software significantly impacts the development of AR research (IEEE VGTC, 2009) in which it allows users to capture the action of the real-world and fuse it with interactions of virtual objects (Isberto, 2018).

AR has been rapidly emerging in domains such as medicine, marketing and design (Soh et al., 2018), as research found that digital interaction using AR increases the levels of immersion and engagement (Edwards, 2020). AR can be beneficial to corporate firms, workers, and customers by offering solutions to their problems. For instance, as airports are large and crowded, travellers may often be confused about where to go. American Airlines came up with a solution by offering an AR overlay called Wayfinding, that can direct users to their destinations (Hills-Duty, 2017). Wayfinding could also detect passengers’ position and direct passengers to security checkpoints that have the shortest wait time.

Video: American Airlines Wayfinding AR application

Wayfinding was inspired by the first Touring Machine made by Feiner in 1997, in which the scope was to help students and staff of Columbia’s University Campus overlay information about the points of interest nearby (Casella and Coelho, 2013). AR navigating tools has also been widely adopted in museums as an interpretative form that helps with adjusting and reinventing traditional cultural mediation (Casella and Coelho, 2013).

AR’s application in the business field is often used for product designing processes, training and trials (, 2020). For example,  Walmart and Chipotle use AR to train its employees to reduce risk in making mistakes in the real world (, 2020). Retail businesses like Sephora developed an AR app which allows consumers to try their virtual makeup products before purchasing. Moreover, Wayfair uses AR to display customers on how their furniture would appear like in their home (, 2020).  By this, AR is able to resolve problems that online shoppers may face. As stated in Forbes, AR encourages shoppers to shop impulsively, accounting to 80% of young people making an impulse purchase in 2019 (Griffin, 2020).

Sephora’s Augmented Reality App                 Source: Ashley Carman (2017)

Current non-commercial applications have increasingly implemented AR to help individuals perform their tasks more efficiently and effectively. Aircrafts pilots use AR in their helmets to assist them with important information while flying (Kleef et. al., 2010). AR can also be used to make a realistic simulation. For instance, surgeons use AR while performing complex surgery and soldiers use AR in their helmets to mark the positions of enemies (Kleef et. al., 2010).

In 2014, Google invented its Google Glass AR headset (Ramar et al., 2020), where the device could provide information that an employee needs (Google AR & VR, 2019). As reported by AGCO (2017), there had been a 25% decrease in production time on complex assemblies. An employee from AGCO stated that “I don’t have to leave my area to go look at the computer every time I need to look at something”, with Google Glass, the employee could simply scan the serial number of the part they are working on, and AR manuals, photos or videos the worker needs will show up (Simon, 2017).

Video: Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2

Podcast: AGCO’s employee talks about Google Glass 

Mobile AR

The increasing technological development on smart-phones has stoked up the development of Mobile Augmented Reality (MAR) (Qiao et. al., 2019). The proliferation of smartphones has aided MAR in gaining popularity, resulting in AR being used broadly in recent areas of games, education, and commerce (Qiao, 2019). These MAR applications bring interesting experiences over the real world through cameras, GPS and compass sensors (Qiao, 2019).

In 2016, Niantic Labs launched its hybrid reality game,  Pokémon Go (Silva, 2017). Players are required to search, capture, collect, train and battle Pokémon creatures while GPS is used to align the gamer’s real-world location with the digital world (Paavilainen et. al, 2017). According to Guinness World Records, Pokémon Go achieved the highest revenue of mobile games, gaining approximately $207 million in its first month (Iqbal, 2020).

The two major firms in the field that first allowed the installation of AR applications are Apple and Google in 2009 (Casella and Coelho, 2013). The latest iPhone models (the 8, 8 plus, and X onwards) runs a strong AR-friendly A11 bionic chip, strengthening its profile of promising AR associates (Cox, 2019). Additionally, Apple acquires Metaoi, an AR software company in 2015 (Cox, 2019).

Pokémon Go was downloaded by 38 million users on Google’s Android and 17 million users on iOS in 2019 (Iqbal, 2020). This led Google Play accounting for 54% of the game’s revenue ($482 million) and iOS App Store gaining 46% of the revenue ($412 million) (Iqbal, 2020).

Although Pokémon Go entertains a number of users with its interactive game, it also has its drawbacks. Business Insider reported that the game led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries nationwide in 2017  because players would look for Pokémon creatures on dangerous areas (Bernard, 2017). As reported by Faccio and McConnell, there was a rise in users playing Pokémon Go while driving, resulting in an increase in vehicle crashes and fatalities (Bernard, 2017).

It is evident that AR could affect an individual’s behaviour when they are opted into the virtual world, as it could influence a person into performing an action they would otherwise not do, such as driving while playing a game. Another drawback includes the potential of AR games creating an addiction or making users unaware of their surroundings.

AR on Social Media

My personal application of AR is mainly AR filters on social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat. AR filters have helped me enhance my feed and contents on social media; hence, improving aestheticism. By picking a filter, AR allows me to overlay the filter on videos or images that I capture.  This makes it easier and more convenient for users on social media to add features on their content without having to edit on another platform.


Overall, AR has proven to be beneficial to businesses, workers and consumers in promoting efficiency or providing solutions. This essay has discussed how AR can be utilised to help businesses train their employees,  improve customers’ satisfaction, and how AR can be useful to integrate information into simpler data that can be understood easier. However, as beneficial as AR can be, it could raise issues if users are heavily reliant on it or are addicted to it.











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