Like its more immersive cousin virtual reality, augmented reality (AR) has been one of the most anticipated technologies of the decade. As shown by Google Trends, interest in the concept – which uses computer hardware to overlay imagery atop the physical world – exploded in 2009, aided in no small part by the smartphone revolution.

AR has had a much longer gestation period than what many may think. As this infographic from Augment illustrates, AR’s beginnings can be traced back to 1968, when Ivan Sutherland developed a head-mounted display system for computerised wireframe drawings.

From there, incrementally advancing AR technology has flirted with mainstream adoption in various ways, from military-grade uses by navies and air forces, to interactive magazine covers and computer-generated markers during televised sports games.

More recently, AR has enjoyed a second resurgence thanks to another hardware boom – this time in wearable technology concepts such as Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap. With the AR-infused mobile gaming app Pokémon Go taking the world by storm this month, AR is at last beginning to fulfill its promise.

Other significant events include:

  • The name ‘augmented reality’ is attributed to Boeing researcher Tom Caudell, who coined the term in 1990.
  • Despite similar development timelines, AR and the internet did not meaningfully combine until the early 2000s, with the development of the open-source ARToolKit software library.
  • In the early months of 2016, annual investment in AR crossed the billion-dollar mark for the first time.
augmented reality history