As we are speaking about the virtual reality trends and amaze at the effect it can have on marketing and entertainment, it is interesting to look back at what made VR technologies a reality. Here are 10 major milestones in the VR history that made it evolve into the technology we know it now.
19th century: Early Attempts
The first attempts to make people feel they are part of the reality they observe are panoramic paintings of the nineteenth century. These paintings, which often portrayed a historical event or a battle scene, depicted all the objects in their real size and filled the entire vision of a viewer to create an illusion of immersion.
The next step was tapping into a 3D view, which made two-dimensional images perceived as more realistic. It was Charles Wheatstone who paved the way to 3D views. His 1838 research was the first to describe binocular vision or stereopsis – the process when the brain combines two different images from each eye into a single three-dimensional image. Leveraging this idea, the scientists developed their first stereoscopes, the design principles of which can now be seen in a Google Cardboard and low budget VR displays for mobile phones.
1935: VR Predicted in a Sci-Fi Story
In 1935 American science fiction writer Stanely Weinbaum became a true visionary of the field of augmented and virtual reality. In his book Pygmalion’s Spectacles, Weinbaum describes a pair of glasses that allow those who wear them to perceive a movie with all common human senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. The description of the experience closely resembles the one modern users of VR headsets have.
In 1957, a filmmaker Morton Heilig invented the large both-like machine meant to create the illusion of full 3D immersive viewing – Sensorama. The booth had to be used by one to four people and had to combine a stereoscopic 3D screen, stereo sound, and other technologies recreating smell, vibrations, and even atmospheric effects. In 1960, Heilig patented another invention – Stereoscopic Television Apparatus for Individual Use, which presupposes a head-mounted display, first of its kind. Although neither invention was materialized by Heilig, they had a prominent role in promoting further VR evolution.
1968: The Sword of Damocles
In 1968, a computer scientist Ivan Sutherland created the first actual VR head-mounted display (HMD). The headset was connected to a stereoscopic display from a computer program that depicted simple virtual wireframe rooms and objects. As a user moved his head, the perspective changed. Since the objects were displayed against a real background, the invention can be considered the birth of augmented reality.
The strange name, The Sword of Damocles, stuck to the project because the headset was so heavy that it had to be placed into a mechanical arm suspended from a ceiling. This might be the reason why the Sutherland’s HMD didn’t escape the lab environment after all.
1969: Artificial Reality
Starting 1969, a computer artist Myron Krueger developed a series of experiences, which he called “artificial reality”. First projects named GLOWFLOW, METAPLAY, and PSYCHIC SPACE were computer-generated environments that responded to users’ actions. These led to the VIDEOPLACE technology introduced by Krueger in 1975. VIDEOPLACE consisted of dark rooms with video screens that surrounded users with a computer-generated virtual reality. Users’ movements were recorded on camera and transferred onto the silhouettes forming part of the screen story. Notably, users did not only receive the opportunity to act in a virtual world but also to interact with other users (silhouettes) in it.
1970s-80s: Flight Simulator
A military engineer Thomas Furness leveraged substantial military funding to create the first flight simulator, the “Super Cockpit”. A head-mounted training cockpit was able to project computer-generated 3D maps, radars, and avionics data. Work on the project extended through the 1980s and resulted in further revolutionary for its time features such as the ability to control an aircraft using gestures, speech, and even eye movements.
1984: VPL Research
Another milestone in VR evolution if the founding of the VPL (Visual Programming Lab) Research, Inc. by Jaron Lanier. The company is the first to sell virtual reality gears including the Dataglove, the EyePhone head-mounted display, VR goggles, and gloves. Although Lanier has developed or co-developed most of this VR gear technology, he is, first of all, known as a person who coined and popularised the term ‘virtual reality’.
In 1992, Lanier and his lab became the inspiration for the movie The Lawnmower Man which introduced the ideas of virtual reality to a wider audience.
1990s: VR arcades and Game Consoles
In 1991, Virtuality Group made the next dramatic move that made VR technologies more accessible to the public. The company launched VR arcade machines for the immersive 3D gaming experience. The machines had VR headsets with realtime stereoscopic 3D images and some of them even networked together for multiplayer games.
In 1994, a VR-1 motion simulator arcade machine was released by Sega. Despite the initial plans, Sega did not provide VR headset accessories for their home game consoles explaining it with the fear that the experience would be too realistic and users could get hurt. Thus, the first portable console displaying monochromic 3D graphics – Virtual Boy – was introduced in 1995 by Nintendo. Virtual IO and Forte followed the lead producing more comfortable and affordable home VR headsets.
1999: The Matrix
The Matrix was a great cultural blow that brought the topic of virtual reality into the mainstream. People started questioning as well as aiming at the possibility to create a simulated world that would be so real you can hardly believe it’s not.
More than that, today, the movie has not lost its popularity and is referred to as an anti-utopia that has all the chances to come true in course of further VR evolution.
2014: Gaining Momentum
Of source, there are several remarkable events in the VR history of the 21st century before 2014 such as the introduction of the stereoscopic 3D mode of Street View by Google in 2010 or the launch of a Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift. However, 2014 seems to be a defining year for present-day VR evolution. It was in 2014 that Facebook bought the Oculus VR company, Sony started working on Project Morpheus (a VR headset for PlayStation), Google released the Cardboard, and Samsung announced its Gear VR.
Today, the VR industry sees hectic competition among serious players such as HTP, Google, Appl, Amazon, Sony and the advancements in VR technology happen not once in a decade but rather once in a few months. SwagSoft, called one of the Top Augmented & Virtual Reality Companies of 2019, is proud and passionate to be at the forefront of this process.