history of virtual reality

important events in virtual reality history

Virtual reality has been around for a while now, if you want to be philosophical about it you could say virtual reality was here from the dawn of human race. the dictionary definition of virtual reality is:


": an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one's actions partially determine what happens in the environment".

so one can say, that human imagination is an early version of a virtual reality headset system. lucky for us I'm not big on philosophy. but it is very interesting to understand why human race is so intrigued with putting on a headset an escape to an alternate reality, and how that need is being answered today.

Hugo Gernsback

Hugo Gernsback with   his television eyeglasses
Science fiction as we know it would probably not exist without Hugo Gernsback. He coined the term “science fiction” as the editor and publisher of Amazing Stories, the first magazine devoted to the burgeoning genre, which he launched in 1926. The Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy are named after him.

Gernsback was also an inventor whose many ideas included a “combined electric hair brush and comb,” a battery-powered handheld illuminated mirror, and a wax-impregnated fabric strip for removing excess hair. But his most arresting invention was probably his television eyeglasses 

Link Trainer-"Blue box"

The original Link Trainer was created in 1929 out of the need for a safe way to teach new pilots how to fly by instruments. Ed Link used his knowledge of pumps, valves and bellows gained at his father's Link Piano and Organ Company to create a flight simulator that responded to the pilot's controls and gave an accurate reading on the included instruments. More than 500,000 US pilots were trained on Link simulators, as were pilots of nations as diverse as Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, and the USSR. Following WWII, Air Marshall Robert Leckie (wartime RAF Chief of Staff) said "The Luftwaffe met its Waterloo on all the training fields of the free world where there was a battery of Link Trainers".

The Link Flight Trainer has been designated as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The Link Company, now the Link Simulation & Training division of L3Harris Technologies, continues to make aerospace simulators.



Edwin Link had developed a passion for flying in his boyhood years, but was not able to afford the high cost of flying lessons. So, upon leaving school in 1927, he started developing a simulator. The project took him 18 months. His first pilot trainer, which debuted in 1929, resembled an overgrown toy airplane from the outside, with short wooden wings and fuselage mounted on a universal joint. Organ bellows from the Link organ factory, the business his family owned and operated in Binghamton, New York, driven by an electric pump, made the trainer pitch and roll as the pilot worked the controls.

Link's first military sales came as a result of the Air Mail scandal, when the Army Air Corps took over carriage of U.S. Air Mail. Twelve pilots were killed in a 78-day period due to their unfamiliarity with Instrument Flying Conditions. The large scale loss of life prompted the Air Corps to look at a number of solutions, including Link's pilot trainer. The Air Corps was given a stark demonstration of the potential of instrument training when, in 1934, Link flew in to a meeting in conditions of fog that the Air Corps evaluation team regarded as unflyable. As a result, the Air Corps ordered the first six pilot trainers on 23 June 1934 for $3,500 each. In 1936, the more advanced Model C was introduced.

American Airlines became the first commercial airline to purchase a Link trainer in 1937.Prior to World War II, Link trainers were also sold to the U.S. Navy, Civil Aeronautics Administration, Germany, Japan, England, Russia, France, and Canada.



Pygmalion's Spectacles

In 1935 American science fiction writer Stanley G.Weinbaum presented a comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality in his short story Pygmalion's Spectacles. In the story, the main character, Dan Burke, met an elfin professor, Albert Ludwig, who invented a pair of goggles which enabled "a movie that gives one sight and sound …. taste, smell, and touch...

You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it."

Weinbaum's career in science fiction was very short but influential. His first story, "A Martian Odyssey", was published to great, and enduring, acclaim in July 1934, but he died from lung cancer within eighteen months, and the age of only 33.





The virtual reality industry mainly provided VR devices for medical, flight simulation, automobile industry design, and military training purposes from 1970 to 1990.

David Em became the first artist to produce navigable virtual worlds at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from 1977 to 1984. The Aspen Movie Map, a crude virtual tour in which users could wander the streets of Aspen in one of the three modes (summer, winter, and polygons), was created at MIT in 1978.

NASA Ames's 1985 VIEW headset

In 1979, Eric Howlett developed the Large Expanse, Extra Perspective (LEEP) optical system. The combined system created a stereoscopic image with a field of view wide enough to create a convincing sense of space. The users of the system have been impressed by the sensation of depth (field of view) in the scene and the corresponding realism. The original LEEP system was redesigned for NASA's Ames Research Center in 1985 for their first virtual reality installation, the VIEW (Virtual Interactive Environment Workstation) by Scott Fisher. The LEEP system provides the basis for most of the modern virtual reality headsets.

A VPL Research DataSuit, a full-body outfit with sensors for measuring the movement of arms, legs, and trunk. Developed circa 1989. Displayed at the Nissho Iwai showroom in Tokyo

By the 1980s, the term "virtual reality" was popularized by Jaron Lanier, one of the modern pioneers of the field. Lanier had founded the company VPL Research in 1985. VPL Research has developed several VR devices like the DataGlove, the EyePhone, and the AudioSphere. VPL licensed the DataGlove technology to Mattel, which used it to make the Power Glove, an early affordable VR device.

Atari, Inc. founded a research lab for virtual reality in 1982, but the lab was closed after two years due to the Atari Shock (video game crash of 1983). However, its hired employees, such as Tom Zimmerman, Scott Fisher, Jaron Lanier, Michael Naimark, and Brenda Laurel, kept their research and development on VR-related technologies.

In 1988, the Cyberspace Project at Autodesk was the first to implement VR on a low-cost personal computer. The project leader Eric Gullichsen left in 1990 to found Sense8 Corporation and develop the WorldToolKit virtual reality SDK, which offered the first real time graphics with Texture mapping on a PC, and was widely used throughout industry and academia.





The 1990s saw the first widespread commercial releases of consumer headsets. In 1992, for instance, Computer Gaming World predicted "affordable VR by 1994".

In 1991, Sega announced the Sega VR headset for arcade games and the Mega Drive console. It used LCD screens in the visor, stereo headphones, and inertial sensors that allowed the system to track and react to the movements of the user's head. In the same year, Virtuality launched and went on to become the first mass-produced, networked, multiplayer VR entertainment system that was released in many countries, including a dedicated VR arcade at Embarcadero Center. Costing up to $73,000 per multi-pod Virtuality system, they featured headsets and exoskeleton gloves that gave one of the first "immersive" VR experiences.

A CAVE system at IDL's Center for Advanced Energy Studies in 2010

That same year, Carolina Cruz-Neira, Daniel J. Sandin and Thomas A. DeFanti from the Electronic Visualization Laboratory created the first cubic immersive room, the Cave automatic virtual environment (CAVE). Developed as Cruz-Neira's PhD thesis, it involved a multi-projected environment, similar to the holodeck, allowing people to see their own bodies in relation to others in the room. Antonio Medina, a MIT graduate and NASA scientist, designed a virtual reality system to "drive" Mars rovers from Earth in apparent real time despite the substantial delay of Mars-Earth-Mars signals.

Virtual Fixtures immersive AR system developed in 1992. Picture features Dr. Louis Rosenberg interacting freely in 3D with overlaid virtual objects called 'fixtures'

In 1992, Nicole Stenger created Angels, the first real-time interactive immersive movie where the interaction was facilitated with a dataglove and high-resolution goggles. That same year, Louis Rosenberg created the virtual fixtures system at the U.S. Air Force's Armstrong Labs using a full upper-body exoskeleton, enabling a physically realistic mixed reality in 3D. The system enabled the overlay of physically real 3D virtual objects registered with a user's direct view of the real world, producing the first true augmented reality experience enabling sight, sound, and touch.

By 1994, Sega released the Sega VR-1 motion simulator arcade attraction, in SegaWorld amusement arcades. It was able to track head movement and featured 3D polygon graphics in stereoscopic 3D, powered by the Sega Model 1 arcade system board. Apple released QuickTime VR, which, despite using the term "VR", was unable to represent virtual reality, and instead displayed 360 photographic panoramas.

Nintendo's Virtual Boy console was released in 1995. A group in Seattle created public demonstrations of a "CAVE-like" 270 degree immersive projection room called the Virtual Environment Theater, produced by entrepreneurs Chet Dagit and Bob Jacobson. Forte released the VFX1, a PC-powered virtual reality headset that same year.

In 1999, entrepreneur Philip Rosedale formed Linden Lab with an initial focus on the development of VR hardware. In its earliest form, the company struggled to produce a commercial version of "The Rig", which was realized in prototype form as a clunky steel contraption with several computer monitors that users could wear on their shoulders. The concept was later adapted into the personal computer-based, 3D virtual world program Second Life.



21st century

The 2000s were a period of relative public and investment indifference to commercially available VR technologies.

In 2001, SAS Cube (SAS3) became the first PC-based cubic room, developed by Z-A Production (Maurice Benayoun, David Nahon), Barco, and Clarté. It was installed in Laval, France. The SAS library gave birth to Virtools VRPack. In 2007, Google introduced Street View, a service that shows panoramic views of an increasing number of worldwide positions such as roads, indoor buildings and rural areas. It also features a stereoscopic 3D mode, introduced in 2010.



An inside view of the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay prototype headset

In 2010, Palmer Luckey designed the first prototype of the Oculus Rift. This prototype, built on a shell of another virtual reality headset, was only capable of rotational tracking. However, it boasted a 90-degree field of vision that was previously unseen in the consumer market at the time. Distortion issues arising from the lens used to create the field of vision were corrected for by software written by John Carmack for a version of Doom 3. This initial design would later serve as a basis from which the later designs came. In 2012, the Rift is presented for the first time at the E3 video game trade show by Carmack. In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus VR for what at the time was stated as $2 billion but later revealed that the more accurate figure was $3 billion. This purchase occurred after the first development kits ordered through Oculus' 2012 Kickstarter had shipped in 2013 but before the shipping of their second development kits in 2014.ZeniMax, Carmack's former employer, sued Oculus and Facebook for taking company secrets to Facebook the verdict was in favor of ZeniMax, settled out of court later.
In 2013, Valve discovered and freely shared the breakthrough of low-persistence displays which make lag-free and smear-free display of VR content possible. VThis was adopted by Oculus and was used in all their future headsets. In early 2014, Valve showed off their SteamSight prototype, the precursor to both consumer headsets released in 2016. It shared major features with the consumer headsets including separate 1K displays per eye, low persistence, positional tracking over a large area, and fresnel lenses. HTC and Valve announced the virtual reality headset HTC Vive and controllers in 2015. The set included tracking technology called Lighthouse, which utilized wall-mounted "base stations" for positional tracking using infrared light.

The Project Morpheus (PlayStation VR) headset worn at gamescom 2015

In 2014, Sony announced Project Morpheus (its code name for the PlayStation VR), a virtual reality headset for the PlayStation 4 video game console. In 2015, Google announced Cardboard, a do-it-yourself stereoscopic viewer: the user places their smartphone in the cardboard holder, which they wear on their head. Michael Naimark was appointed Google's first-ever 'resident artist' in their new VR division. The Kickstarter campaign for Gloveone, a pair of gloves providing motion tracking and haptic feedback, was successfully funded, with over $150,000 in contributions. Also in 2015, Razer unveiled its open source project OSVR.

Smartphone-based budget headset Samsung Gear VR in dismantled state

By 2016, there were at least 230 companies developing VR-related products. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sony and Samsung all had dedicated AR and VR groups. Dynamic binaural audio was common to most headsets released that year. However, haptic interfaces were not well developed, and most hardware packages incorporated button-operated handsets for touch-based interactivity. Visually, displays were still of a low-enough resolution and frame rate that images were still identifiable as virtual.

In 2016, HTC shipped its first units of the HTC Vive SteamVR headset. This marked the first major commercial release of sensor-based tracking, allowing for free movement of users within a defined space. A patent filed by Sony in 2017 showed they were developing a similar location tracking technology to the Vive for PlayStation VR, with the potential for the development of a wireless headset.
In 2019, Oculus released the Oculus Rift S and a standalone headset, the Oculus Quest. These headsets utilized inside-out tracking compared to external outside-in tracking seen in previous generations of headsets.
In 2020, Oculus released the Oculus Quest 2. Some new features include a sharper screen, reduced price, and increased performance. Facebook now requires user to log in with a Facebook account in order to use the new headset.