An Augmented Medium Finds Its Message

After a Long Discovery Phase, Augmented Reality Enters the Real World

Like many technologies that don’t fit neatly within the existing world view, Augmented Reality went through a number of false starts. The idea of augmenting one’s reality—introducing computer generated images and information to one’s surroundings in real time—was first mentioned in a 1901 book titled “The Master’s Key: An Electrical Fairytale”. Despite this early invention, AR remained a staple of the Sci-Fi entertainment genre, existing only in the realm of writers and readers for quite some time.

However, as the technologies around computers began coalescing in the late 1950’s, scientists started dabbling with the idea of augmented reality. Their efforts produced some clumsy but functional devices. It wasn’t until the aerospace industry started looking to AR that the platform began evolving with some urgency behind it.

The phrase “Augmented Reality” first showed up in a Boeing lab in 1990 to describe a head-mounted display to guide workers through the aircraft wiring. Around the same time, the aerospace industry also started recognizing the power of augmenting pilots’ reality to assist in organizing and understanding the crush of information that pilots had to assimilate. Thus, for the next fifteen or so years, AR existed mostly in the realm of advanced aeronautics. Far beyond the reach of the general public.

It wasn’t until 2005, when German researchers developed “see through” augmented reality services for the cell phone space, that the technology started opening up to the mainstream public. But there was still a problem; few private companies knew what to do with augmented reality. Sure, a few curious companies dabbled in using AR. But for the most part, it was a medium in search of a message.

A number of technological tipping points occurred to finally push the technology over the hump, including the explosion in apps. Instead of a few select companies looking to develop the perfect execution, teams of small firms and startups were able to apply AR to a vast array of different subjects. With the cost of failure greatly reduced, innovation and exploration soared.

Today surgeons now use AR for training and to assist in actual procedures. Mechanics and IT professionals use AR to repair everything from computer chips to jet engines. Facebook, Google and Microsoft are all charging hard into AR and VR programs. It’s in museums, in sports stadiums and classrooms and now it’s finding its way into dental operatories.

We recently developed AR app for a client to demonstrate the new, smaller sized product. We felt we needed to go beyond the traditional communication mediums deliver the primary product benefit in a way that also positions the company as a tech-savvy leader. We created an augmented reality app that allows doctors to use their smartphone or tablet to ‘place’ the product anywhere in their operatory. Using the app, doctors can literally see how the product looks and fits within their practice. They can spin it, move it and even take a snapshot of it…all in real time. It’s an amazing way to demonstrate how small the new unit is. The app works with a device’s camera and a printable marker. In addition to delivering information about the product, it also allows potential customers to self-identify and forward their contact information.

The app “speaks” a number of languages including English, Deutsch, French and Spanish, automatically detecting the users native language. It’s a high-tech way to demonstrate a high-tech device. It just happens to be pretty fun to use. Even if it’s been 100+ years since AR made its sci-fi introduction.