The History of VR

Man has been trying to create visually immersive experiences for hundreds of years. By the third century BC, Euclid had already recognized that depth of field was produced through your left and right eyes seeing slightly different images [5]. Around 1600, Giovanni Battista della Porta, an Italian scientist, created 3D images by arranging two stereoscopic hand-drawn pictures (Ibid.). With the advent of photography, these attempts at stereoscopy only became more sophisticated.
In the 1960’s, computer scientists Ivan Sutherland and Thomas Furness created the foundations for modern VR. Sutherland created the “Sword of Damocles” in 1968, in which the user can interact with 3D wireframes through a head-mounted display. Furness designed flight simulators for the Air Force in Ohio [6].

In the 1980’s, Jaron Lanier popularized the term “virtual reality” and founded VPL Research to create and sell VR products [7]. The 80’s and 90’s saw the first real hype for virtual reality, with successful movies like Lawnmower Man raising the profile of the medium. The hype eventually died down, however, when the current state of VR technology could not meet the public expectations. Mass market products, such as the Nintendo Virtual Boy which sold more than 700k units (3), were ultimately considered failures due to a lack of content, high pricing, and technological limitations.

Exhibit 1 Nintendo Virtual boy [8]

Exhibit 1 Nintendo Virtual boy [8]

Since that point, VR has been a successful commercial technology in fields such as design, flight simulation, and surgical training, but has not found the same type of success in the consumer market. The proliferation of the internet served to further distract from the public disappointment of VR. Until Oculus VR’s Kickstarter campaign, VR had all but disappeared from the public consciousness.
Today, VR headsets are back in the spotlight and some of the problems that left audiences underwhelmed in the 80’s and 90’s are being actively addressed. Modern head-mounted displays are being released with better graphics processing at lower price points than similar, earlier solutions. Still, in order for VR to achieve mainstream acceptance, many more problems must be solved, spanning from the technology used in product design to the methods applied to content creation.

5. Iizuka, Keigo. Engineering Optics. Toronto, ON, Canada : Springer, 2008. 978-0-387-75723-0.

6. Robertson, Adi and Zelenko, Michael. Oral History - Virtual Reality. The Verge. [Online] [Cited: 4 18, 2016.]

7. Virtual Reality Society. VPL Research Jaron Lanier - Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality Society. [Online] 2016. [Cited: 4 18, 2016.]

8. Rutherford, Sam. Nintendo Getting Back Into VR, 20 Years After Virtual Boy. Tom's Guide. [Online] 02 02, 2016. [Cited: 05 17, 2016.],news-22199.html.