A Brief History of Virtual Reality

By now most people have at least heard of virtual reality (VR). Whilst experience with VR still remains a mystery to most, interest in the technology has been gaining momentum for more than a decade – but the concept of virtual reality is much older.

You may be surprised to learn the idea of VR first surfaced as far back as 1935 in a short story called Pygmalion’s Spectacles penned by the science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum. The story features a pair of goggles that immersed the character in the world of movies.

The idea of creating a 3D world in a computer simulator was actually more scientific than science fiction. In 1940, Sir Charles Wheatstone was awarded the Royal Medal from the Royal Society for his research on vision.

It was Wheatstone that demonstrated how the brain sees the world in 3D by combining two “photographs” recorded by each eye. The research inspired the earliest type of stereoscope, a contraption that made an image look 3D.

This early model was enhanced in 1956 when the cinematographer, Morton Heilig created a VR machine called the ‘Sensorama’ machine. The device combined multiple technologies to stimulate the senses and create the first immersive 3D experience.

Four years later, Heilig patented the Telesphere Mask, the first head-mounted display (HMD). A year later, Comeau and Bryan created “Headsight” the first head-mounted display to feature tracking. Here we find the early beginnings of the VR technology we have today.

By 1965, the idea of VR as a marketable device was exciting for innovators. When Ivan Sutherland presented his vision of the Ultimate Display, the virtual world could barely be distinguishable from reality. Three years later, HMDs could be hooked up to a computer and the first virtual reality game was launched – The sword of Damocles.

Black and White Image of a Man with a Rudimentary Headset on

In the first part of our Brief History of VR, we talked about how the concept of VR matured from a science fiction prop to become a commercial video game in the space of 30 years between 1935 and 1965.

Of course, in the 1960s, VR simulations were in their fledgling stages, but the fundamental features were in place. In 1975, the concept of VR took a giant leap when the groundbreaking computer scientist Myron Krueger developed the first interactive VR platform.

Known simply as “Videoplace”, the device used computer graphics, projectors, video cameras, video displays and technology that could sense your position. After being displayed at Milwaukee Art Centre, Kreuger attracted commercial attention.

In 1979, McDonnell-Douglas Corporations was the first to integrate VR into its HMD. However, it would be another decade before the technology changed direction on the roadmap. In 1989, Nasa came into the picture and developed a VR training simulator for astronauts.

It was this change of direction that prompted innovators to develop new uses for the technology. The history of VR progressed from recreational use to educational.

There is a case to argue that using virtual reality as an education tool is where VR simulations, such as our Diabetes Voyager offer the most value. The technology provides invaluable training environments for vocations in critical industries such as medical, pharmaceutical, construction and military.

Following Nasa’s success, Georgia Tech and Emory university applied VR technology to treat patients suffering from PTSD. Today, VR is put to multiple uses by the healthcare industry.

A significant turning point for VR came in 2012 when Palmer Luckley launched a Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift. Two years later, Facebook bought Oculus VR for £2 billion.

In the same year, Sony announced they were working on a VR headset for the Playstation 4 and Google released a DIY viewer for smartphones similar to the device Samsung created for their smartphones.

VR’s big boom came in 2016. Advancements in the development of VR projects introduced haptic interfaces, gloves and sensor-based tracking. This enabled users to use all five senses and make VR simulations more life-like.

In 2019, the Oculus Quest was released and sold out in many locations. In the following years, Quest 2 was unveiled and is pegged as the industry leader in VR headsets.

To date, the Quest 2 is used by multiple industries for a huge range of different uses including staff traininge-learningexplainer videos, employee onboarding, and cybersecurity training.

VR simulations are gathering pace and with multiple uses across key industries. There is no doubt that VR products are becoming more accessible to more people – which will ultimately see the technology evolve into its next phase of history. And Meta (ex-Facebook) could lead the way.

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Do you need to develop scenario based e-learning either via Articulate Storyline, Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality? Feel free to drop us an email at info@sbanimation.com, or give us a call on +44 (0)207 148 0526. We would be happy to help.

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