The History of Virtual Reality – How VR technology Started

Virtual Reality seems like a relatively new idea with products available to the everyday person only entering the market within the last couple of years. The technology is very promising and could potentially change the way we work, live and experience entertainment. Although most of us have heard of Virtual Reality and even own a pair of VR goggles not many of us know how the technology got to the point it is at today. Key milestones in the techs history will be explained below so that we can all understand the long journey that VR has travelled.

VR Goggles Predicted in Sci-Fi Fiction

In the 1930s a writing piece published by science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum contains the idea of a pair of goggles that let the user experience a fictional world through images, smell, taste and touch. If we compare VR goggles released in current years they are remarkably similar making the author a visionary of his day.


The Sensorama

In the 1950s cinematographer, Morton Heilig created the Sensorama which looked like an arcade-style theatre booth. It would stimulate all the senses, not restricted to sight and sound by using stereo speakers, a stereoscopic 3D display, fans and a vibrating chair. Similar to a 4D experience attraction the Sensorama was intended to fully immerse the individual in the film.

The First VR Head Mounted Device

In 1960 Morton Heilig creator of the Sensorama then went on to develop the first recognized Virtual Reality Device that sat on the users face. Known as an HMD or Head-mounted display as no motion tracking was included. Although this was simply a display screen incorporated into goggles – this was still the first major step towards VR goggles.


Headsight – The First Motion Tracking HMD

In 1961 the first HMD with built-in motion tracking was created by two Philco Corporation engineers. The Headsight as they called it was a pair of goggles with a video screen or each eye. It contained a magnetic tracking system that linked to a closed circuit camera. It was originally intended for remote viewing of dangerous environments for military personnel but the technology was another major step in VR across every industry.


The Ultimate Display

Although no device was actually created by Ivan Sutherland, he did write a piece of literature that is still used by VR creators as a blueprint today. The paper consisted of ideas that included: computer hardware to create and manage virtual environments, the ability to interact with virtual components and a combination of the HMD devices previously invented with realistic 3D imagery that had tactile feedback.

Remember the Name – Virtual Reality

The name Virtual Reality was created by Jaron Lanier, founder of the visual programming lab (VPL). His company sold the first VR goggles – EyePhone1 for $9400.

This extensive history leads up to the 21st century where the technology continues to make strides with companies such as Oculus and PlayStation releasing flagship products this year. This should inform you a little more about how we got to this point with VR and proves that it’s been 60 years in the making. Let’s see what happens in the next 60!