Virtual Reality may be a new concept for consumers who are buying their first VR headset. But the concept of VR is quite old. It dates back to the era of the first form of photography in the 1800s. A product called View master was developed by using two mirrors to project a single image. They patented the idea in 1939 and it is still in production. Although the concept is old, the term virtual reality came into existence only in the 1980s.
Morton Heilig’s Sensorama was considered to be the first virtual reality device. He wanted to bring the movie experience a lot closer to his audience. In 1956, he created the ‘Sensorama experience’. He built the first head mounted device called the Telesphere Mask and patented it in 1960. They consider the device to be the grandfather of the modern VR headsets. It provided 3D wide vision and stereo sound.
The next year, i.e. in 1961, Philco Corporation brought out a head-mounted device designed specifically for the military. Their HMD had two individual screens and a magnetic motion tracking system that was linked to and controlled a closed-circuit camera. It allowed the military to view dangerous situations without exposing themselves to danger. But the device did not have any integration with a computer or an image simulation.
Ivan Sutherland improved on Helig’s ideas to create “The Ultimate Display,” that would be the window to the ‘ virtual world’. It had tactile feedback and 3D surround sound. A computer created the virtual world and also allowed the user to interact with the virtual world.
Jaron Lanier’s VPL Research produced the first set of goggles (Eyephone) and gloves (Dataglove) to experience ‘virtual reality’. The company also worked on including haptic feedback.
After these innovations, the early 90s saw the advent of arcade machines from the Virtuality Group. Their machines had close to real-time simulation with very low latency, about 50ms. These arcades were restricted to malls and game zones.
In 1995, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy came as the first mass-market 3D gaming console. But it failed miserably.
Oculus, an American technology company brought about the latest revolution in VR. In 2012, the company displayed their Oculus Rift prototype and started a Kickstarter campaign to produce VR headsets. The company surpassed all their funding goals and secured $1 million in under 36 hours.
Within two years, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion and now it is the biggest VR company in the world.