Laid out here is the history of the Virtual Reality technology. Can you believe it started with 360 degree paintings to make people feel present at some historical event!
Who first thought about it? What it was used for? How did it evolve over a period of time?
Early 19th century
Until the late 18th century, the predominant mode of landscape representation was the bird’s-eye view. This type of image offered the onlooker a high viewpoint outside the subject depicted within the frame of representation, whether a city, a coastline, or a pastoral scene.
In the 19th century, the ‘’panaroma’’ evolved; which was a new method of displaying a landscape image. Painted landscapes were exhibited in a 360-degree view, on a circular canvas strip surrounding the viewer. These paintings were intended to fill the viewer’s entire field of vision, making them feel present at some historical event or scene.
To audiences anticipating a conventional bird’s-eye view, it must have been strangely thrilling to walk through a tunnel and up onto a viewing platform and find themselves entirely surrounded by an illuminated scene.
Edwin Link had completed the “Link Trainer”, a small aircraft which was the world’s first true flight simulator, a contraption that presented the pilot with realistic-looking instrumentation that, when activated, would be recreated by the small plane. Pull up and, using cannibalised organ bellows, the plane would pull up. Bank and it would bank, etc. This was designed as a training device for novice pilots.
In the mid 1950s cinematographer Morton Heilig developed the Sensorama (patented 1962), which was an arcade-style theatre cabinet that would stimulate all the senses, not just sight and sound. It featured stereo speakers, a stereoscopic 3D display, fans, smell generators and a vibrating chair. The Sensorama was intended to fully immerse the individual in the film.
Two Philco Corporation engineers (Comeau & Bryan) developed ‘the Headsight’ which incorporated a video screen for each eye and a magnetic motion tracking system that was linked to a closed circuit camera. The Headsight was not actually developed for virtual reality applications (the term didn’t exist then), but to allow for immersive remote viewing of dangerous situations by the military. Head movements would move a remote camera, allowing the user to naturally look around the environment. Headsight was the first step in the evolution of the VR head mounted display but it lacked the integration of computer and image generation.
Virtual reality was used on projects for NASA as well as research into new forms of human-computer interaction (HCI). The system integrated a head-mounted display with the DataGlove and a sensor-equipped full body garment that relayed the motions, gestures and spatial positioning of the wearer.
Jaron Lanier, founder of the visual programming lab (VPL), coined the term “virtual reality”. Through his company ‘VPL research’, Jaron developed a range of virtual reality gear including the Dataglove and the EyePhone head mounted display. They were the first company to sell Virtual Reality goggles (EyePhone 1 $9400; EyePhone HRX $49,000) and gloves ($9000).
- Jonathan Waldern debuted a “Virtuality” line of gaming products, which comprised of a headset connected to either a sit-down or stand-up arcade pod with built-in controllers that allowed players to explore virtual environments. The arcade systems, which costed $3- 5 to play, didn’t quite catch on.
- A year later Sega launched the Sega VR, a headset for home gaming consoles. Later, competitors launched the Forte VFX1, designed to work with PCs, the Nintendo Virtual Boy, a VR Helmet, and the Sony Glasstron – a stand-alone pair of virtual reality glasses.
The Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset was developed and manufactured by Oculus VR, a division of Facebook Inc, that shook the entire VR industry. Thereon, hundreds of companies started to develop virtual reality headsets and software applications!