Overlapping Origins

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality has gone from pipe dream to reality in just over a century.

Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Tokyo.
Image credit : teamLab Borderless

The roots of AR and VR can be traced far beyond the birth of modern computing technology. The first device which can be associated with VR is the stereoscope created by Charles Wheatsone. This optical system gave birth to the making of very first VR-AR helmet in history, developed by a Harvard Professor Ivan Sutherland.

“The Sword of Damocles,” a head mounted display that was the precursor of both AR and VR. Through his invention, the display looks surreal and unwieldy, but without it Amazon Go, AR-based m-commerce services, and other existing business use cases for AR technology would not have existed.

Image Credit: NowSourcing/HistoryDegree.net

Augmented reality (AR) adds digital elements to a live view often by using the camera on a smart-device while Virtual reality (VR) implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world. AR-VR truly took off in mid to late 20th Century, when Morton Heilig invented Telesphere Mask, the first example of head-mounted display. However, Philco, a US firm based in Philadelphia, contests that it was actually they who created the first HMD. In 1961 a system was developed in which a camera was placed in one room, while the user sat in another with the display. The HMD is a construct used for almost all modern AR and VR.

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Although the adoption rate for AR/VR devices is relatively low compared to other consumer electronics, many of the world’s biggest tech companies see the promise of AR/VR technology and have begun to allocate significant R&D budgets to develop it. Microsoft is well-invested in the technology, with the company owning over 10,000 AR/VR patents across thousands of patent families. Intel, Apple and Sony are among other tech giants that stand at the technological forefront of mixed reality. The AR/VR market amounted to a forecast of 20 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 and is expected to expand drastically in the coming years.

Image Credit: NowSourcing/HistoryDegree.net

One of digital technology’s strengths is its ability to connect people. Collaboration has been a key part of the worlds of art, education, safety, business, healthcare and so on. In terms of art, technological developments are not only changing how art is being created, but also what art is being created. There has already been significant impact on artists like Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor, Kevin Mack and Stuart Campbell along with galleries and museums like British Museum, Sotheby’s, Tate and MoMA.

“I like thinking that the AR advancements might recharge people to imagine and create new possibilities for themselves and share their ideas for the future.” – Joyce Grimm, the curator of the ‘Festival of the Impossible’