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The History of Virtual Reality

Here you can read how virtual reality all started.

Virtual Reality, is a concept that has seen a lot of growth, and of course, a lot of hype around mainstream use in recent times. In an easy to understand definition, this is what it is.

“the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.” as defined by the Oxford dictionary

However, how many people ever stop to ask themselves where and when this fascinating technology began. Here we take a look at the timeline of significant events that led VR to where it is today.

1838 Stereoscopic Viewing

The earliest significant step towards VR viewing came many years before the term was even developed. This came in the form of Stereoscopic Viewing.

This development was based on the research of Charles Wheatstone, which demonstrated the brain’s process of taking two dimensional images from each eye in order to generate a three dimensional view of the world around us.

1929 The World’s First Flight Simulator

Known as the “Link Trainer”, only patented 2 years later in 1931, the next big step in the development of VR was the creation of Edward Link. The device was run by two motors that were connected to the rudder and steering column in order to mimic pitch and roll. It also featured a small motor-driven device for imitating turbulence and other related disturbances.

Likley being the first of its kind, it was such a success that in WW2, ten thousand Link Trainers were put to use by approximately 500,000 pilots, for the purpose of fine tuning their skills.

1930, Science Fiction Draws a Roadmap

Though not an actual development or use for VR, Pygmalion’s Spectacles, a Sci-fi written by Stanley G. Weinbaum revolved around the idea of a pair of goggles that allowed the wearer to experience a fictional world through taste, touch, smells, and holographic imagery.

In an instance of life imitating art, Weinbaum’s fictional goggles were conceptually very similar to how today’s developments in mainstream VR technology.

The 1950’s Brought The Sensorama

During the 1950’s, a cinematographer named Morton Heilig developed the Sensorama, which was patented in 1962. His creation was an arcade styled theatre booth that featured a Stereoscopic display, smell generators, fans, a vibrating chair, and a stereo speaker system. All the features were intended to fully immerse the viewer.

Heilig also went about filming six short films for his invention, all of which were produced, shot, and edited by him.

Early 1960s: The Birth of The Head Mounted Display

The first example of the Head Mounted Display (HMD) was dubbed the “Telesphere Mask”. It was another invention from Morton Heilig which came to life in 1960 and was patented during the same year. Although it did not offer the wearer any motion tracking, it did come with stereo sound and wide view 3D Stereoscopic viewing.

The second came about a year later in 1961 in the form of the “Headsight”. The brainchild of Philco engineers, Bryan and Comeau, and is accepted as being the blueprint for HMDs as we know them today. Unlike Heilig’s version, this one was capable of video viewing.

Interestingly, the Headsight was not intended for commercial VR purposes. Instead, it was created to give militaries an immersive view of hostile environments remotely. The head movements of its wearer would in turn stear a remote camera, thus allowing the user to view surrounding environments without physically being there.

1969 Brings Artificial Reality

A VR computer artist by the name, Myron Krueger brought to life a series of virtual experiences which he named Artificial Reality. He did so by developing responsive computer generated environments, which led to the development of VideoPlace technology. The tech let individuals who are miles apart from each other communicate in responsive computer generated environments.

1987: The Birth of Virtual Reality

Though there had been many developments regarding the technology, there had yet to be an umbrella term to encompass all of the developments. This was up until the founder of the Visual Programming Labs (VPL), Jaron Lanier, was said to have coined the term.

Jaron’s company brought two significant developments, the Eyephone HMD and the Dataglove, making them the first company to sell VR display equipment. 

The Early 1990s

At this point, an all inclusive name had long been in use, and many major technical developments had occurred. This set the stage for a number of significant developments in this sector.

1991, saw the Virtuality Group launching a range of arcade machines and games where the players would don a pair of VR goggles and play games in real time.

1992 saw the release of the Lawnmower Man movie, which was partly based on the early life of Jaron Lanier.

A year later, in 1993, SEGA announced the launch of a VR headset, which featured head tracking, stereo sound and an LCD screen to work with the SEGA Genesis console. However, the device never made it out of the development phase.

1995 saw a rival of SEGA, Nintendo, trying to do something similar with the VR-32 portable console. However, this too would result in commercial failure, even after the company reduced the price.

Fast Forward to The 21st Century

Thanks to major developments in technology that led to significant reductions in the costs of development and manufacturing, VR has in recent times, seen major advancement.

There has been a steady stream of software and hardware offerings from companies like Google, Microsoft, Sony e.t.c. aimed directly at the everyday consumer. In the decade to come, one can expect a lot more VR and related offerings hitting the main stream.

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Joel Bonga

A part time cryptocurrency trader, mostly a hodler, and Blockchain/crypto freelance writer. Plus an occasional contributor at BIZZNERD.
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