Virtual Reality - The Early Years
The concept of virtual reality is one that has been around for many years, well before the term was even coined. As early artists tried to capture panoramic scenes, and early photo viewers in the 1930s gave a 3D experience, this virtual reality we know today was slowly formed. While some may argue that we’re only now in the early years of VR technology, we’ve still seen some major advancements from its humble beginnings.
With an unknown future of just how far this technology can go, we can only marvel at how much virtual reality will be a part of our lives in a hundred years or so. As VR now helps with clinical therapy as well as providing entertainment in the form of gaming, training, adult entertainment, and movies, there’s no denying that what we’ve seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Invention and Idea of VR in History
When considering virtual reality as a concept of transporting the viewer to somewhere they’re not, it could be argued that early panoramic paintings set out to achieve this effect. Drawn to give a 360-degree view of a battlefield or some other landscape, these images captured the entire line of sight of their viewers.
In 1838, it was found that viewing two stereoscopic images side by side with a special viewer gave the user a 3D image. This technology was used to promote virtual tourism and other industries that allowed viewers to transport themselves to another place. The design on the stereoscope is similar to virtual reality glasses today such as Google Cardboard, and even the more technical systems like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
VR in Early Fiction
Science fiction films and novels also delved into the notion of a virtual reality, dating back to as early as the 1930s with a novel by Stanley G. Weinbaum. Pygmalion’s Spectacles follows the tale of a man who finds a pair of glasses that allows him to experience another world complete with sight, sound, smell, and touch.
Since then, many works of fiction have played with the concept of virtual reality and produced ideas that are light years ahead of what scientists were able to construct.
The First VR Headset
In the 1960s, many important inventions relating to virtual reality were produced. The Telesphere Mask displayed stereoscopic 3D and wide vision, marking it the first ever head mounted VR device. The Ultimate Display in 1965 was a paper written by Ivan Sutherland that laid the plans for how VR would look in the future.
Other advancements in creating virtual environments and artificial realities progressed until the term “virtual reality” was popularised in the late 1980s. VR was then brought to the masses with arcade games and popular films jumping on the bandwagon to spread the idea.
Films such as The Matrix and The Lawnmower Man were huge successes and helped to ignite the idea that virtual reality could be commonplace in society in the not too distant future.
Gaming companies Sega and Nintendo both tried their hand at mass producing virtual reality systems for gamers, but their lack of graphics and a high price tag resulted in poor sales. After some failed attempts in the 1990s, there hasn’t been a large focus on VR devices for personal use until recently.
Since its beginnings, virtual reality has now progressed to a more commercially available and affordable product that seems well within the reach of the standard gamer. 2016 especially marks an important time in the history of virtual reality, as this year will be remembered as the time when devices such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation 4 VR become available for public consumption.
No longer was VR something that only worked in a science fiction film or expensive lab somewhere, it was now readily available for gamers and others to enjoy from the comfort of their own home.
The Virtual Reality Society states that 2016 will be the year that developers can finally fulfill the promises made by virtual reality from 30 years ago and make it accessible to the general public. The invention of smartphones has been crucial in allowing this to happen, as have additional technologies such as depth sensing cameras and motion controllers.
Many would argue that we’re still in the early years of VR technology, and likely that will be true when we look back over the advancements made in the next 100 years. For such a new technology, there is still so much room to grow and improve.