Learning in Augmented Reality – How AR enhanced the knowledge-seeking journey throughout history

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As we’ve mentioned in one of our previous Studcademy lessons, AR or Augmented Reality technology is a type of technology that integrates visual elements into the user’s reality. The visual elements are computer-generated – most commonly through 3D modeling or multiview image capturing technology. 

AR falls under the umbrella term of Extended Reality (XR). Along with AR, there is a much more popularized concept of VR – Virtual Reality – and MR, which stands for Mixed Reality and is a combination of the former two. Having been grouped together, it is no wonder that these terms share a part of history.

History of AR: From literature to reality

Like many inventions, the idea of AR technology owes its origins to literature. And, believe it or not, the first one who started developing this concept was no other than the writer of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum. Baum described in another book The Master Key (1901) the Character Maker – a rather useful pair of AR glasses that helped you learn a person’s true character. The Character Maker was able to discern among people based on whether they were Good or Evil, Wise or Foolish, and Kind or Cruel. All the protagonist Rob had to do was put the Character Maker on and it would project a person’s true character on their forehead!

The functionality of these spectacles is well beyond what we can currently accomplish (and let’s not even start with the specifics: What are the parameters of measuring the goodness of a character? Can the initials change depending on a person’s intentions? Would an Evil and Cruel character be capable of doing a kind act? Why are good-evil and kind-cruel separate? Does that mean that there could be a Good and Cruel person? Is that the chaotic good alignment? Etc.). A much more realistic thing to expect in the future would be a pair of AR glasses that gives you some basic information about other people. This information would be less dependent on very obviously subjective distinctions of a character and more on practical points like name, age, accomplishments, etc. Imagine how different a job interview could be if the interviewer had your CV at all times in front of their eyes and was able to filter information based on tags. Or how different speed dating would be! Long gone would be the days where you would need to prepare talking points in advance: you simply filter your joint interests and start chatting!

The stepping out from fiction into reality happened half a century later for Augmented Reality. And it all started with Morton Heilig, the Father of Virtual Reality.  

Why VR is older than AR and how it caused it

“Why stop at a picture that fills only 18 percent of the spectator’s visual field, and a two-dimensional picture at that? Why not make it a three-dimensional image that fills 100 percent of the spectator’s visual field, accompanied by stereophonic sound?”

一 Morton Heilig, the Father of Virtual Reality

In the early 1960s, Morton Heilig wanted to widen the cinematographic experience for viewers. He patented a series of contraptions that helped snowball the interest in XR. Sensorama is among the most famous of them: it was an elaborate structure where a person could sit and experience riding a motorcycle while seeing the objects in 3D, feeling the wind in their hair (courtesy of a built-in fan), and even feeling the unevenness of the road (with the help of vibrations). However, Sensorama made a greater contribution to the field of VR, since it used pre-filmed material to transfer the viewer into the experience. It was another of Heilig’s inventions – a Telesphere Mask – that could be said to have started the development of AR technology. This device was a Head-mounted Display (HMD) similar to many of today’s HMDs. Heilig was a prolific inventor who was very obviously ahead of his time – his inventions didn’t amass much interest due to high costs and unclear possibilities outside of the cinema. 

In 1966, Ivan Sutherland, a notable computer scientist, and his students built up from Heilig’s concept. One of the more formidable looking was a head-mounted display equipped with a head-tracking system called The Sword of Damocles. The name fits the device perfectly – much like the sword that hung over Damocles while he was experiencing how it would feel to rule, the HMD’s tracking system hung over the viewers as they experienced Augmented Reality. 

From that point on there was a newly lit interest in the field of AR: the military was quick to recognize the usefulness of a device that extends reality. Learning how to pilot and operate an aircraft and act and react in specific situations was a fertile ground for the development of AR tech.

However, it wasn’t until 30 years later that the very term first came to be. 

1990s: When AR took flight

Thomas Caudell and David Mizell, two Boeing airplane engineers pinpointed the issue in the manufacturing process – machines were still on a primitive level, so delicate and precise movement continued to elude automation efforts. Dealing with tiny parts was thus fully left to humans. Even so, the manufacturing process became more and more complex as technology advanced, so even people were having difficulties handling it, albeit for completely different reasons. So people had less space to deal with all the information they had to hold in their heads to do their jobs properly. Sounds familiar? That’s because we talked about the dangers of information overload in one of our previous lessons!

And what did Caudell and Mizell do? They come up with a “heads-up, see-through, head-mounted display” similar to many we know today. The HUDset technology, as they called it, would free up much of the working memory by projecting diagrams and templates onto real objects in the environment. This meant more working memory for learning the exact movements necessary during the manufacturing process. 

In 1992, Louis Rosenberg built the first-ever immersive augmented reality system. Virtual Fixtures, as it was called, was developed at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. It quickly found its use in the operating room, where it provided instructions and audio guidance to surgeons. 

From then on, Augmented Reality technology secured its spot among emerging technologies and has only continued to develop until it finally entered our everyday lives: through our smartphone devices. 

The history continues: Learning in AR with Studyum

As we have seen, learning with Augmented Reality is far from being a foreign concept. From trying to learn a person’s character to learning how to pilot an aircraft and how to manufacture it, Augmented Reality was always closely related to expanding what we can accomplish. With Studyum, AR is incorporated into your micro-lessons to enhance your learning experience regardless of the topic or difficulty. And, as remarkable as it sounds, all this power will soon be with you at all times – in every handheld device in the world!

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