The Beginning of Augmented Reality

Throughout history humans have interacted and communicated through many different means and beginning as far back as the stone age’s cave paintings. While rock makes for a fine surface to convey an idea be it through visual depiction or crude writing it would be ancient Egypt’s papyrus scrolls that would become one of the earlier medias to become mobile (Farman, 2012). While humans have made massive leaps and bounds in advancing us to the modern day with things such as cell phones or tablets, we must still appreciate the different steps that lead us to this point.

A large portion of human history has been focused on the transfer of knowledge and ideas has been through the use of mobile media in its various forms. It has only been recently that using media as a form of augmentation has even been considered. As technology has evolved the possibilities to improve the abilities of humans has become a much more considerable possibility and with the help of brilliant individuals such as Steve Mann these things can become reality. Beginning over thirty five years ago Mann began his research first with theorizing how he could combat the difficulties of welders being able to view their projects with only the use of simple lenses of darkened glass (Mann, 2013). This led Mann to begin his work in Augmented Reality (AR) with the use of specialized goggles that would allow him more than just improved sight but an entirely different way to experience the world.

One of the main misconceptions about AR is that it must involve computers or cameras and is closely related to virtual reality. Although some of these ideas are partly correct the correct definition is provided by Ronald Azuma as “Augmented reality (AR) is defined as a technology that mixes the real environment with the virtual, is registered in three-dimensions, real-time, and interactive.” (Azuma, 1997) With this definition it allows us to more easily identify the different every day objects one may not consider as being an aspect of AR such as a hearing aids, be it to assist those with hearing impairments or headphones that block out background noise with specific overlaying white noise.

As computing power increases the capabilities of AR is making leaps and bounds in the abilities that it can grant the users. It is hard to imagine that as recent as the 1980’s cellphones were a rare and expensive commodity when today they are not only must more accessible to the everyday person they are almost considered a social “norm”. Not only this but prior to 2009 most people used their phones for voice communication, yet it is more common for someone to use their phone for some other form of data transfer (texting, internet browsing, applications) than it is to use it for speaking to another person. (Farman, 2012)

These ideas are astonishing considering the length of time that cellphones have been around. With phones being commonplace in hallways and other accessible places in the home moving to the pocket of each individual within the home in just over one hundred years is incredible given the rate that other individual medias took to take root and become commonplace. The telephone took well over thirty years to even become usable by the general public after its invention in the 1876. (Ling and Donner, 2009). The cellphone on the other hand after its beginning in 1983 with Motorola releasing the first public mobile cellphone had already evolved from a simple cellphone into a sort of Swiss army knife of technology in only 20 years with the release of the iPhone and similar devices in 2004. (Farman, 2012)

Study from 2007

With technology evolving at this unprecedented rate it is not at all unreasonable to expect these new AR technologies to be adopted into the social “norm” within the next few years. One of the key ideas that Liao and Humphrey discuss in their article had to do with the recently developed application, Layar, a form of graphical grid applied over the users camera view. The application provides information in real time about the users surroundings by showing the user the distance to different user generated pages displaying information about different locations in the local area. They discuss how not only was the application successful but allowed users to redefine the world around them with a single program.

Liao and Humphrey discuss how one of the key aspects of AR is the ability for people to control the space around them in ways that were once unheard of. Applications like Layar allow for the user to almost redefine the world around them and allow them to view information in ways we haven’t been able to in the past. With the development of visual display technologies such as Microsoft HoloLens or Google Glass users will be able to advance these applications even further by adding an entirely digital dimension that previously was unheard of. This new AR will in my opinion open up innumerable ways for humans to advance current technology and interpret the world around us. As AR evolves I believe that it will follow a similar path to the cellphone and become an aggregate of technology and evolve as humans create even more uses for this incredible technology.

Mann, S. (2013, March 1). Steve Mann: My “Augmediated” Life. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from

Liao, T., & Humphreys, L. (2014). Layar-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce, and reappropriate public space. New Media & Society. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from

Farman, J. (2012). Historicizing Mobile Media: Location the Transformations of Embodied Space. The Digital Formations, 73.

Ling, R., & Donner, J. (2009). Mobile Communication. Digital Media and Society.

Morris, J. (2008, August 1). Toxic Smoke and Mirrors. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from×250.jpg

Gruenewald, B. (2007, October 7). The Results: Mobile/Cell Phones. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from

Brown, D. (2014, June 14). Augmented Reality Gaming. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from


One thought on “The Beginning of Augmented Reality

  1. I like that you did a great job structuring your essay and incorporating Augmented Reality throughout, including at the beginning, instead of saving it for the last portion of your essay. You pointed out that it has become normal for people to use their phones for communication instead of talking to each other. This doesn’t seem weird to us because we are living it. The idea that we could use AR technology in the future to eliminate more verbal communication and interaction is an interesting point, because it seems odd to us now, but it’s really not all that different. You mentioned that the cellphone took hold of society at a much faster rate than telephones. You go on to state that you see Augmented Reality technology being incorporated into everyday life similarly to the telephone and cellphone. I wasn’t sure, are you implying that AR tech will develop and normalize into society as quickly, or possibly even faster, than cellphones?

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