Location sensing within mobile devices is reaching a new phase of development and distribution. This new phase, now commercially available for augmented reality developers, delivers powerful local search solutions.


Morton Heilig introduces Sensorama to the world, a machine capable of providing entertainment that engages all five senses.  Built similar to arcade amusements, the user experienced a virtual world.  Production of the Sensorama spawned for Heilig, another great idea: the head-mounted display.His Telesphere Mask became the prototype for head mounted displays that are used in military fighter jets – the uses of which were first seen by many in "Star Wars."


During this time, Ivan Sutherland devised one of the first complete augmented reality systems built with wire-frame graphics and a head-mounted display that required a head sensor which measured the position and angle of the user’s head. The system would then change the location of augmented objects depending on the view angle.


Boeing engineers Tom Caudell and David Mizell began applying augmented reality in the design process.It's Caudell who is considered to have coined “augmented reality.”  Augmented reality goes industrial in helping to design, build, and maintain objects.


The era of virtual reality grows in development and application and seizes the imagination of Hollywood and other industries including games, educational, and defense.

Librarians begin to explore AR to protect priceless manuscripts and books. The technology allows searchers to flip the pages and read the table of contents of rare old books and identify missing books from a shelf or collection.


Robert Azuma in his HRL Lab published a paper describing his team’s latest AR discoveries in both indoor and outdoor environments. There was also a big thrust in the '90s for enterprise Bluetooth, RFID, and other wireless local LAN technologies. It would be the late 1990s that would bring wireless data communications. So when Azuma and his team calculated an outdoor solution for AR applications it was big news. The solution from HRL Lab compensated for user motion which inspired freedom of use beyond the confines of a stationary presentation. The solution used a rate gyro, compass, and attitudinal sensors to display virtual text labels over distant points of interest.

This era also saw Mixed Reality Systems Lab in Singapore and Project Arvika in Germany study augmented reality in both head-mounted displays and video screen interfaces.

Philippe Kahn introduces his newborn daughter Sophie to the world on the first mobile camera phone that enabled him to share her picture with over 2,000 relatives and friends. Kahn created a makeshift camera phone in the hospital by pulling together a cell phone and a digital camera to send photos in real time. His invention was the beginning of LightSurf Technologies which now powers mobile phones for most of the leading global manufacturers.

Benefon Esc! NT2002 becomes the first GSM device with built-in GPS.

2000s and the Future

In 2001, Stargate SG1 showcased the long-term side affect of retinal scan display (RSD) on the user, including permanent optical nerve and brain damage.

Although AR has been around for over four decades it's only now the technology is taking off. Head mounted displays using (RSD), which displays the image directly onto the eye, may reduce the need for bulky headsets, but consumers need to be wary of using technology that impacts our sight and hearing just because it is cool.

Pattie Maes of MIT’s Fluid Interfaces group is creating a new digital "sixth sense" for humans. Maes’ group is interested in how people can mix into their environment using a wearable device that turns any surface into an interactive display screen.  Maes intends to augment the data derived from our five senses with those that can be generated from a mobile computing device.  To see more about Mae’s solution, watch his TED presentation.


The fundamentals of location-based augmented reality

Location sensing within mobile devices is reaching a new phase of development and distribution. This new phase, now commercially available for developers of augmented reality, delivers powerful local search solutions.

Mobile AR solutions finally have the components available to deliver solutions for mass adoption. 

Basic requirements for all mobile location based AR solutions include a browser enabled smart phone with a high resolution camera, geo-positioning, accelerometer, light sensor, direction sensing, motion sensors and stabilizers, a processor able to calculate the visual information and decide overlay data to present and how it should be presented.  Additionally, the solution requires at least a 3G network and a data plan.

When network coverage is slow to non-existent

When national network coverage is non-existent, metropolitan area networks kick into gear.  Proximity location sensors determine if an object is within a distance-frame of a known location, e.g. WiFi access hot spots within a campus setting that can provide triangulation data.  There are two other methods for determining proximity and they include detecting physical contact such as pressure and touch: mobile touch screens and observing auto ID such as point-of-sale terminals, road-way toll passes, and UPC product codes.

What this means is even if the carrier network is slow, mobile search AR can be used on a university campus, at an enterprise company with multiple buildings, within a defined tourist area, and a shopping mall as long as the mobile device shakes hands with the WiFi network.

Beware of open-source solutions

Open source technology enabled apps are rarely supported by the carrier or handset manufacturer, thus if there is a problem the most likely outcome is the user will need to delete of the app and a require a refund.  Consumers and the brand advertisers behind the AR apps need to ensure that their AR apps are fully supported by the developer.

Augmented reality in real life

Toppan Printing Co Ltd in Japan supplies AR terminals for mass distribution.  Their terminals – about the size of a soda or mobile phone vending machine – are located in market places.  Based on the simple ability of a mobile phone snapping a QR code to acquire enhanced item descriptions on digital signage, provide new features to display windows, and help shoppers find stores, the Toppan AR Terminal when used with a mobile phone housing a high-quality camera, can recognize the package of a sample product, display a description of the product, and provide a view of the product outside of its security packaging.

If you've discovered a real life augmented reality mobile solution, please share.

Tina Whitfield

Published 25 January, 2010 by Tina Whitfield

Tina Whitfield is CEO of EquisGlobal and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (4)


Ryan McBurney

QR codes are ready to take off and bring augmented reality to the world! My company, Mobile Discovery, is currently offering a free trial to create, manage, and track QR codes on our campaign management platform. www.mobilediscovery.com

over 8 years ago



I'd be very wary of putting software/hardware into the marketplace myself which relied on peoples' humanity to make it work, retinal scanners and so forth. Ask anyone with really quite elemental il health along the lines of thyroid disorders... people are infinite in their variety, you aren't going to be able to cater for them. You may find yourself having to cater to their infinte lawyers though :-) It sounds kind of fun but it may well turn out not to be.


over 8 years ago


Tom Anderson

In the "open source" section of the article, interested parties are reminded that third party apps are not supported by the manufacturer of the phone. However, it is claimed that users of defective apps will have difficulty getting refunds. In the case of open source apps, the user can access the source and fix bugs. Additionally, many open source projects are free, hence the phrases "free as in beer" and the community support business models of open source.
Rather than targeting open source software, i think that the problem is third party software that is not open source. If you download an AR phone app, you cannot be sure that a disreputable company isn't stealing your camera data unless the software is open source, in which case we could examine the code and know.
There are a number of open source projects, such as OpenCV for vision processing, that are useful for AR. So the danger is not open source but third party applications.

almost 8 years ago



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about 5 years ago

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