We can conjure objects into our real world as if by magic with AR, and with Pikachu and friends earning up to $10m per day, R&D departments are searching for the next phase
While Dorothy, blue-skirted and pigtailed, clutching a wicker basket and a bewildered dog under her arm, surveys the weird flowers and pygmy huts around her, she’s sure of just one thing: she’s not in Kansas any more. L Frank Baum’s character was, it turns out, born slightly too early. In 1901, a year after the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum wrote The Master Key, a novel credited with the invention of augmented reality via a pair of imagined spectacles that could map information on to whatever or whomever its wearer looked at. Had Dorothy owned a pair, she might have learned that she’d been whisked to Oz, or that her new friend the Tin Man was in need of a heart, even, perhaps, that a wicked witch is burned not by fire, but by water.
It was almost a century until Baum’s invention gained a label. In a 1992 research paper, the Boeing engineers Thomas Caudell and David Mizell described a pair of “see-thru virtual reality goggles”, a device that would enhance the vision of factory workers with the complicated task of piecing together a jumbo jet’s nests of internal wiring with dynamically changing labels and information. Caudell termed this principle of annotating the seen world “augmented reality”, thereby formalising for Silicon Valley’s mavens and investors a fresh and unplundered field of technological opportunity, one that would eventually lead to the invention of Google Glass, a pair of information-spewing spectacles built, unbelievably, to Baum’s century-old definition.