Why Augmented Reality, and Why Now?

Written By: Jonathan Lang
  • 10/19/2017
After learning about how AR is poised to transform businesses and is ready to create value today, check out the Infographic below!

In 1968, Professor Ivan Sutherland of Harvard University invented the first head-mounted augmented reality (AR) display. The prototype required heavy, costly equipment to be suspended from the ceiling above the user’s head to track their movements and display information on semi-transparent lenses. Connected to computers that resemble a modern server rack, the apparatus processed and generated the experience to overlay digital information, while maintaining the user’s view of the laboratory surroundings.


Sutherland’s prototype was dubbed ‘the sword of Damocles,’ taken from a Greek myth in which Damocles is granted a great position of power by Dionysus at the cost of having a large sword suspended above his throne by a single horse hair. The metaphor alludes to the great challenges and risks faced by those in positions of power.

The Harvard professor and his team knew the potential for AR, but recognized the major hurdles they faced in making it possible. Nearly 50 years later, AR represents an even more powerful opportunity as the world relies on the digital information trapped behind screens, and those challenges and risks Sutherland faced have now been overcome by major advancements in augmented reality technology.

Now, the power of AR can be wielded to experience the insights of the digital world directly in the context of the physical world – right where the action is happening.

Why AR?

AR is positioned to accelerate today’s digital transformation by addressing these key business challenges

The Future of Training: Technology and automation are changing the nature of work and the skills required to be productive in new and changing settings. Study after study show that upwards of 35% of employers struggle to fill jobs due to lack of talent, despite traditional training tools like handbooks and videos. How will we teach the next generation the skills needed to thrive in a technologically advanced workplace?

Today’s Competitive Edge: Companies are being squeezed by competitive pressures to be more efficient and productive. Customers demand more, and even a single poor experience can tarnish a brand’s reputation. The 5 year mortality rate for publicly traded companies in the US has reached a staggering 32%. How can we better use the technology we have to gain a competitive advantage?

Data is the New Oil: The digitization of business processes and information sharing has created an explosion of digital content, from CAD models of manufactured products to digitized user manuals and service procedures. We’re producing 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day! How do we turn all of the value from this data into actionable insights?

Why Now?

Previously, the opportunity of AR has been limited because the technology lacked the necessary capabilities, ubiquitous connectivity, and digital content to be practical at scale.

Technology Readiness: Some of the biggest technology companies on the planet have made significant investment in AR/VR enablers like Computer Vision in recent years, and now it’s ready for prime time. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently stated that Computer Vision has now become more accurate than humans for image recognition.

Ubiquity: Today, ubiquitous connectivity and mobile devices enable access to the digital world through WiFi, Bluetooth, 4G, and other wireless network signals to communicate high volumes of data at a fast rate. With over 6 billion smartphone users worldwide, the potential for killer AR experiences is right there in your pocket!

Authoring for All: Tools from companies like Google, Apple, and PTC have resulted in new AR platforms, devices, and authoring tools. These tools quickly connect data to enable practical creation of enterprise-ready AR experiences at scale. PTC’s Vuforia authoring kit has over 370,000 developers worldwide and nearly 50,000 AR apps already created.

Pre-register to receive one of the first copies of “Why Every Company Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy” from the godfather of strategy, Harvard Professor Michael Porter, and PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann in their latest research collaboration presented by the Harvard Business Review.

Also be sure to check out our new Infographic:

  • Connected Devices
  • Retail and Consumer Products
  • Augmented Reality

About the Author

Jonathan Lang

Jonathan Lang is Principal Analyst for PTC’s Thought Leadership group. He is an accomplished technology market analyst, providing advisory to the full ecosystem - investors, enterprises, and vendors - on the impact of emerging technologies and digital transformation. Jonathan enjoys the outdoors and spends his weekends backpacking, rock climbing, and gardening.