1965 - Ivan Sutherland,
Father of AR

Gabriel Picard - May 29, 2020 - 9 min read

For as long as we can remember, the invention of virtual reality and augmented reality were inextricably linked. The credit goes to to Ivan Sutherland from the university of Utah, in 1965, and its group of computer science students, Bob Sproull, Quentin Foster et Danny Cohen.

Back then no one called it augmented or virtual reality but the first “Helmet Mounted Display “ prototype was just created.

The sword of Damocles : visionary device of augmented reality

It was named the sword of Damocles because of its heavy structure suspended from the ceiling above the user; this device securely head fastened, enable performing the experiments integrating virtual content into a real environment.

Sutherland - The sword of Damocles 1
Sutherland - The sword of Damocles 2
Sutherland - The sword of Damocles 3

The device was really basic both in terms of user interface and graphic rendered. The Sutherland system displayed output from a computer program in the stereoscopic display. The perspective that the software showed the user would depend on the position of the user's gaze, which is why head tracking was necessary.

If you’re intrigued and are eager to learn more about how this amazing device worked, I invite to read the documentation written by Sutherland in 1968. It’s a true wonder!

Sutherland - A head mounted three dimensional display system (PDF)

And as a gift to encourage you to read more about this true giant that is Ivan Sutherland in our geek world, we reproduced The Sword of Damocles in augmented reality so that you can try it yourself  ;) 

The Ultimate Display

A display connected to a digital computer gives us a chance to gain familiarity with concepts not realizable in the physical world. It is a looking glass into a mathematical wonderland.

Ivan Sutherland - à propos de the Ultimate Display

When Sutherland moved to the University of Utah in the late 1960s, work on integrating the various components into a single HMD system was begun. By the end of the decade, the first fully functional integrated HMD system was operational. The first display application was a cube suspended in the air in front of the user. The system itself consisted of six subsystems :

  • a clipping divider
  • a matrix multiplier
  • a vector generator
  • a headset
  • a head position sensor 
  • a general-purpose computer
The parts of the three-dimensional display system

The headset glasses were partially see-through, so the users were not completely cut off from their surroundings. That is why the system is often cited as a precursor to augmented reality technology.

But it was 1965!

Reading Sutherland’s publication “The Ultimate Display”was really amazing; we can feel its passion and his vision’s accuracy as to this technology’s potential.
It’s even more fascinating to be able to experiment this vision with today’s progress. I can’t wait to be in 2049.

Once more curious minds will find something to nurture their curiosity reading this publication.

Sutherland - The Ultimate Display (PDF)

From Sketchpad to Augmented Reality

If you’re already in awe of this invention from 1965, you’ll find out that Ivan Sutherland wasn’t an amateur. He invented the Sketchpad computer program in 1962, the first drawing program on a computer screen.

Sketchpad - Ivan Shuterland - 1963
Sketchpad, Ivan Shuterland 1963

The Sketchpad system uses drawing as a novel communication medium for a computer. The system contains input, output, and computation programs which enable it to interpret information drawn directly on a computer display.

Ivan Sutherland - Sketchpad, a man-machine graphical communication system, 1963

This program is the point of origin of every graphic user interface (GUI). Before that, it was the darkness ! Besides the revolutionary use that procured Sketchpad, Sutherland literally influenced modern programing by setting the basics principles of object oriented programming, way to make an all developer generation shed a tear ^^

When asked, "How could you possibly have done the first interactive graphics program, the first non-procedural programming language, the first object oriented software system, all in one year?" Ivan replied: "Well, I didn't know it was hard."

Ivan Sutherland was introduced to the National Inventors Hall of fame in 2016

I truly hope that when you start your next AR project you’ll keep in mind and consider the gigantic work that Ivan Sutherland and his team cleared for us 🤣

Mister Ivan Sutherland we thank you from the bottom of our heart !

Gabriel Picard
Gabriel Picard
Creative Director, Cofounder
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