This week, the Maverick VR team dived deep into the history of virtual reality equipment. In just a short few years, it’s impressive how virtual reality equipment has evolved. Below, we wrote up a brief summary of its history to provide some insight into virtual reality’s past & present!
The origins of VR and virtual reality equipment has been disputed; elements of virtual reality appeared as early as the mid-1800s. However, the sort of virtual reality equipment that we are most familiar with today seems to trace its roots back to around 1950 with the invention of the Sensorama. The Sensorama is one of the earliest known examples of multimodal (or multi-sensory) technology. A mechanical machine, the Sensorama included a stereoscopic color display, odor emitters, fans, a motion-based chair, and a sound system. The inventor of this piece of virtual reality equipment, Morton Heilig, realized that theater-going could be an activity that incorporated all of our senses. In 1962, he built the first prototype of the Sensorama in addition to 5 'virtual reality' films, which could be displayed and watched through the device.
Between 1970 and 1990, virtual reality equipment was primarily used for medical, flight simulation, automobile design, and military training purposes. In 1970, the LEEP (Large Expanse, Extra Perspective) was developed by Eric Howlett. The machine created a stereoscopic image, which had a wide enough field of view that it could project a convincing sense of space. In 1985, the original LEEP was redesigned for the NASA Ames Research center for its first VR installation. Current virtual reality equipment are modern-day derivatives of the LEEP.
The first commercial release of consumer headsets were sold in 1990 with Sega’s Sega VR headset. In the same year, Virtuality launched its first multiplayer VR entertainment system which featured a headset and exoskeleton gloves which gave users one of the first immersive VR experiences.
Fast forward a few years, Valve Corporation had a breakthrough with low-persistence displays which allowed for lag-free and smear-free display of virtual reality content in 2013. Oculus adopted this technology and they currently use it for all of their modern virtual reality headsets.
By the year 2016, there were at least 230 companies developing VR-related products with Facebook itself employing over 400 people to focus on virtual reality equipment and software development. Similarly, Apple, Sony, Samsung, Google, and Amazon all had teams dedicated to the advancements of virtual and augmented reality.
In 2016 HTC shipped its first set of virtual reality equipment and it marked the first major release of sensor-based tracking using base stations to track individuals movements within real, physical space
Phew! It's hard to condense the history of virtual reality equipment into a brief summary while trying to do it justice! There is so much to learn about the origins of this equipment. Below we've provided some additional resources if you're interested in immersing yourself further into the topic.
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