11.02.16 – History of Virtual Reality

Before we delved into the history of VR, we were introduced to some terms which we will be encountering very often throughout this module.

VR – Virtual Reality
A term that describes it as a means of creating the illusion that we are somewhere we are not.

AR – Augmented Reality
‘Augmenting’ reality through a technology based filter (eg: Google Glass).

VS – Virtual Space
The simulated space within a virtual application (eg: the internet).

The Beginning

Virtual reality precedes the time of its actual conception. The first Virtual Space can be seen in a painting depicting war called “Battle of Borondino” and dates back to 1812. It shows a panoramic view of the battlefield and tries to capture as much as possible so that the viewer could feel somewhat immersed.


Stereoscopic photos and viewers were created in 1838 by Charles Wheatstone and were made up of two images slightly different from one another and then superimposed. This marked the beginning of VR and present advanced technologies such as the Oculus Rift use the exact same concept!


By the 1930’s people were starting to create stories and toys that revolved around the the idea of virtuality, such as Stanley G. Weibaum’s “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” which mentions goggles that allow the wearer to experience a fictional world through ‘holo-lenses’, smell, taste and touch.


The Sensorama

In the 1950’s cinematographer Morton Heilig created an arcade-style theatre cabinet called the sensorama. It not only stimulated sight and sound by the use of stereoscopic 3D display and stereo speakers but also featured fans, smell generators and a vibrating chair which simulated the sense of touch and smell.

First VR HMD & First Headsight

Picture1In 1960, Morton Heilig’s proceeded to create his next invention, the Telesphere Mask, which provided a stereoscopic 3D view and wide vision with stereo sound. Shortly after, the first motion tracking HMD was created (1961).

The Ultimate Display Concept

wkd_birthofinternet_1220-10In 1965, Ivan Sutherland came up with the Ultimate Display concept which he described as being able to simulate reality through an HMD accompanied by augmented 3D sounds and tactile feedback. He claimed that his concept would create a virtual world that is so realistic, one would no longer be able to identify what is real and what is not.

“The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the Wonderland into which Alice walked.” – Ivan Sutherland 

Myron Krueger

This American computer artist is considered to be one of the first generation virtual reality and augmented reality researchers. He developed a series of VR experiences that focused mainly on the interaction and response of people.

VR Nowadays

Headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are causing quite a stir especially in the entertainment sector by creating extremely immersive and realistic VR experiences. Haptic devices are also used in conjunction with these headsets giving the user more control which in turn makes the experience even more real and immersive.

Much like the Sensorama mentioned earlier, FEELREAL is a less bulky and more advanced version of the Sensorama used mainly for video games. It is a multisensory VR mask for 3D video games that aims to create an immersive environment by the use of smells and simulated effects such as wind and vibration.

YouTuber Jamin Warren who hosts the PBS Show has a video that nicely summarises the history of VR focusing particularly the influence video games have had on VR.

I think it is also quite interesting to hear what the older generation has to say about these technological advances and whether they think it’s a step in the right direction. I found a light-hearted video where a few elder people experience the Oculus Rift for the first time and then share their thoughts about it.


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