AR basics and automotive trends

| a short and basic definition on Augmented Reality, the first implementations in vehicles and current innovation trends

What exactly is Augmented Reality and when was it first used?

To have a clear distinction between related expressions, Paul Milgram’s Reality-Virtuality Continuum from 1994 shows the relation of Augmented, Mixed and Virtual reality in a very comprehensible way. [3] As shown in the illustration below, AR is the evolution of real environments in the direction of complete virtuality, but still having a majority of real content. Augmented Virtuality on the hand would describe systems using more virtual than real models.

Illustration by P. Milgram and H. Colquhoun Jr., in A Taxonomy of Real and Virtual
World Display Integration [4]

To have an official definition, in The Concise Fintech Compendium AR is described as “an enhanced version of the physical, real-world reality of which elements are superimposed by computer generated or extracted real-world sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or haptics.” [1]

Already in 1997 R. T. Azuma stated three essential characteristics of AR systems [2]:

  • combining reality with a virtual world
  • interacting in real-time
  • registering in 3D space

Azuma also described the two basic possibilities of combining virtual inputs with the real world: virtual objects can be added to the real perception or real objects can be hidden by overlaying virtual effects. This may be possible not only for optical perception, but also for sound and haptics. He described systems with speakers and microphones, altering the incoming sound of our surroundings (like today’s noise-cancelling), or gloves with additional haptic feedback of simulated forces. [2] Basically AR could help us to enhance all of our senses, but it is mostly implemented in visual systems. [6]

After reading basics theories on Augmented Reality from the early 1990’s, one wouldn’t think that the first personal AR system was developed in 1968 at the Harvard University by Ivan Sutherland, the “father of computer graphics” – a HMD (Head-Mounted-Display) system. [8]

Regarding vehicles and and the first implementation of AR, we have to go even further back in time. The predecessor of today’s BAE System plc., Elliot Flight Automation along with Cintel claim the development of the first Head-Up-Display (HUD) in operational service in 1961 – for a military aircraft of the British Royal Navy, the Blackburn Buccaneer. [9]

The first HUD in a passenger car is stated to be used in the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Indy 500 pace car made by General Motors in 1988. [10] Following photo depicts this very simple AR solution on the windscreen.

The HUD in the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Indy500 pace car, from 1988.

In the last decades, AR was further decveloped and implemented in many different areas, and with the evolution of displays, projectors and computer graphics, we can have now our own AR applications on our smartphones or passenger cars. While starting to dig deeper into existing automotive AR solutions, I found the following interesting study as a foundation to enclose my topic of interest.

AR innovations in the automotive industry today

A study carried out by the Austrian “innovation intelligence company” StartUs GmbH analysed over 400 startups and created an overview on the most innovative use cases of AR in the automotive industry [7]:

The study chart by StartUs GmbH [4]

They state that the the total augmented reality automotive market is growing by 177% every year and will reach $5.5 billion by 2022. [7]

From their five areas of innovation my main focus will be on “Experience Enhancement”. The use cases are see-through displays, windshield projectors or various wearables, that can help the driver with additional, immediate information on important events of the surroundings without any distraction. [7]

Existing solutions for this area will follow in my further research.


[0] Wikipedia – Summaries on Augmented Realityät

[1] Schueffel, P.: The Concise Fintech Compendium. Fribourg: School of Management Fribourg/Switzerland, 2017

[2] Azuma, R. T.: A Survey of Augmented Reality. In: Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. 6, Nr. 4, 1997, S. 355–385

[4] Milgram, P., Colquhoun Jr., H.: A Taxonomy of Real and Virtual World Display Integration. In: Mixed reality: Merging real and virtual worlds, Springer, 1999, p. 1-26

[5] The basics of Augmented Reality – Interview with an AR expert;; Retrieved on 27.11.2021

[6] Kipper, G., Rampolla J.: Augmented Reality: An Emerging Technologies Guide to AR; Elsevier; 2013

[7] Online article: How Augmented Reality Disrupts The Automotive Industry; by StartUs Insights Research Blog. Retrieved on 28.11.2021

[8] Online article by Javornik, A: The Mainstreaming of Augmented Reality: A Brief History; Harvard Business Review; 2016. Retrieved on 28.11.2021

[9] Online article by BAE Systems: The evolution of the Head-Up Display. Retrieved on 28.11.2021

[10] Wikipedia summary on automotive Head-Up Displays:

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