In the Workplace
The term "augmented reality" was coined at Boeing in 1990 by researcher Tom Caudell. He and a colleague, David Mizell, were asked to come up with an alternative to the expensive diagrams and marking devices then used to guide workers on the factory floor. They proposed replacing the large plywood boards, which contained individually designed wiring instructions for each plane, with a head-mounted apparatus that would display a plane's specific schematics through high-tech eyeware and project them onto multipurpose, reusable boards. Instead of reconfiguring each plywood board manually in each step of the manufacturing process, the customized wiring instructions would essentially be worn by the worker and altered quickly and efficiently through a computer system.
Soon after he suggested this plan, Caudell realized that he and Mizell were amplifying the breadth of information in the factory worker's line of sight. "We were coming out of a meeting about the wire-bundling boards, and on the way to the bathroom I realized we were augmenting the user's reality," Caudell says. "We first went public with augmented reality in a paper published in 1992."
Although Boeing higher-ups agreed to experiment with the new system, Caudell left the company soon after to pursue his interest in computer visualizations of complex scientific problems. Mizell continued developing several iterations of the wire-bundling AR system, including one that Boeing employees particularly liked in which the display lenses were attached to a headband with a hinge.
But when Boeing didn't adopt the test system on the factory floor, Mizell left the company as well. Despite Boeing's reluctance to install early AR systems, the company is still experimenting with the technology; along with IBM, it is among only a few major U.S. firms to do so.
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