The concept of virtual reality has existed for centuries and it is only in the last decade that we have developed the technology to start realizing the full potential of what VR can offer. No one actually knows who first thought of virtual reality, but discussions of a blurring between illusion and reality were held as early as the 1800’s. To understand how virtual reality has evolved, we have provided a brief timeline of some major events during the last 60 years that have proved instrumental in the development of this technology.
1962 – Morton Heilig’s Sensorama machine
Although not strictly virtual reality, the Sensorama machine provided a multi-sensory experience that immersed the user from many different angles. A prototype of the machine was developed and it still exists today. The user would place their head within a viewing area and watch one of five different films. During the film, the user’s senses were engaged through fans, speakers, odor emitters and also a chair that moved. This essentially created a type of immersive reality and was a ground-breaking piece of technology for its time.
1968 – Ivan Sutherland’s Sword of Damocles
Just 6 years after Heilig’s creation, Ivan Sutherland actually created the first Virtual Reality headset. In comparison to today’s streamlined and compact technology, this HMD system was truly cumbersome and ungainly. The device featured a stereoscopic display that allowed the user to look at 3D rendered wireframe cubes and shapes. Although largely impractical, the Sword of Damocles paved the way for the type of VR headsets we have today.
1978 – The Aspen Movie Map
Fast forward 10 years into the future from Sutherland’s creation and MIT developed a revolutionary mapping system featuring VR technology known as the Aspen Movie Map. This map could actually be considered a primitive version of Google street view and basically allowed a user to walk around the streets of Aspen in Colorado. This was the first of its kind and a huge step forward in practical applications for VR technology.
1992 – The Cave (Cubic Immersive room)
Leap forward to the 90’s and an even greater development in VR technology emerged with the creation of the first cubic immersive room. Carolina Cruz-Niera and Daniel Sandin developed what is known as The CAVE which was essentially a square room with projections on each wall – the user could stand within this environment and use physical motions to mimic reality.
2013 – Oculus Rift VR headset
Since the 90’s, various VR technologies have been released, mainly for simulation and training purposes. In the last decade, however, we have seen the creation of virtual reality headsets – this is the next step of VR technology and it has taken off like no one could have imagined. Headsets such as the Oculus Rift provide users with an unrivaled VR experience that pioneers such as Sutherland and Heilig could only have dreamt of.
As you can see, the concept for virtual reality started off as a basic blurring of reality and illusion – this simple idea has transformed into something truly magnificent and we are now starting to see just how powerful virtual reality can be.