While the method of adding particles or objects to a fluid in order to observe its flow is likely to have been used from time to time through the ages no sustained application of the method is known. The first to use particles to study fluids in a more systematic manner was Ludwig Prandtl, in the early 20th century.
Laser Doppler Velocimetry predates PIV as a laser-digital analysis system to become widespread for research and industrial use. Able to obtain all of a fluid's velocity measurements at a specific point, it can be considered the 2-dimensional PIV's immediate predecessor. PIV itself found its roots in Laser speckle velocimetry, a technique that several groups began experimenting with in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s it was found that it was advantageous to decrease the particle concentration down to levels where individual particles could be observed. At these particle densities it was further noticed that it was easier to study the flows if they were split into many very small 'interrogation' areas, that could be analyzed individually to generate one velocity for each area. The images were usually recorded using analog cameras and needed immense amount of computing power to be analyzed.
With the increasing power of computers and widespread use of CCD cameras, digital PIV has become increasingly common, to the point that it is the primary technique today.
Read more about this topic: Particle Image Velocimetry
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