January 15, 2020
VR: A reality check
Have you ever wanted to explore the colourful depths of the deep ocean, or trek across the rocky terrain of a far-off and hostile alien planet? Well, now you can.
Only a few years ago, VR technology would have seemed impossible. An idea once fantasied by TV shows and Sci-Fi novels, the ability to seemingly place yourself in another world would have seemed absolutely intoxicating.
Nowadays, most of us are at least somewhat familiar with VR technology, whether we’ve been able to try it out for ourselves or not - after all, if it’s not in the news, it’s probably being showcased by your favourite Youtubers or online influencers!
From the revolutionary gaming prospects (we’re looking at you, Super-Hot) on offer, to some of the most immersive film experiences, VR really does have the potential to change the world. Let’s take a look at a brief history of how VR came to be, and how it’s predicted to develop.
Where it all started
You might be shocked to learn it, but the first interactive VR platform was released in 1975 – yep, more than 40 years ago. The actual concept of what we know call ‘virtual’ reality, though, came a whole 50 years before that.
In 1935, Stanley Weinbaum presented his ground-breaking Sci-Fi novel ‘Pygmalion’s Spectacles’, which largely focus on a pair of glasses that could transport the wearer to another realm. It would simulate sight, sound, touch and smell, creating a truly immersive experience for all who would wear them.
This novel seemed to curate our interest in the mystical possibilities that virtual reality might hold. It effectively set the ball rolling on a long adventure over the next century, taking us to where we are today.
How VR progressed
It’s a long journey, following hundreds of scientific discoveries and technical advancements. We’ll look at the significant, defining aspects of VR just here: Sensorama
It would only take 21 years to reach the first major step in VR. In 1956, the Sensorama was created by Morton Heilig.
Incredibly, the Sensorama provided the viewer with full colour 3D video, along with audio, vibrations and scent! The only problem was that it was incredibly bulky – the user did not have the freedom to move around as they would with a modern machine. This would change only 4 years later…
Modern VR displays are referred to head mounted displays, or HMDs, which is exactly what the telesphere mask was. This staggering piece of kit would enable 3D images AND stereo sound, though it would not track motion in any way.
The Ultimate Display
Ivan Sutherland may as well be the father of modern VR, all thanks to his concept of the ‘Ultimate Display’. An incredibly talented, programmer, Sutherland visualised a computer that would emulate a reality SO convincing, it would be impossible to differentiate from ‘real life’.
He speculated that with the right hardware, a computer could create an immersive reality around the wearer.
In 1968, the first HMD ‘virtual reality’, named the Sword of Damocles, was developed by Sutherland alongside one of his students. Due to the weight of the headset, it was never fully developed, and simply acted as a stepping stone in the scientific future of VR.
In 1975, 7 years following the Sword of Damocles, Krueger’s VIDEOPLACE was released on display at the Milwaukee Art Center. Using state-of-the-art technology, without the use of a HMD, VIDEOPLACE used dark rooms, large video screens, projectors and cameras to create a truly interactive VR experience.
Following on from the success of Krueger’s VIDEOPLACE, VR became an established luxury commodity. Using the support of the military, who would develop VR for remote training opportunities, VR would rapidly develop over a series of breakthroughs, most notably:
Sayre gloves, the first wired gloves used to track and monitor hand movements, created in 1982
VPL Research Inc became the first company to sell VR products in 1985
In 1991, VR was used to control the Mars Rovers in real time. Sega also announced they would be developing a VR gaming headset!
2007: street view went live.
2012: The Occulus Rift was launched as a kickstarter campaign; a device that would change how VR is viewed, bringing VR technology back into mainstream attention.
In today’s world, VR has a range of unique applications that would have seemed unfathomable even 20 years ago! In fact, there are already great range of VR devices already on offer, with millions of headsets optimised exclusively for home use.
This means that there are a range of fantastically immersive video game titles, from the acclaimed Skyrim (though it’s not recommended to walk off the bridge at Winterhold) to modern shooters such as Borderlands 2. Even Minecraft has its own VR port of the game.
VR is praised for its 3D video capabilities, too. This makes movies, TV shows and online content more engaging, and can really place you in the room with some of your favourite characters.
Perhaps even more intriguing than the entertainment capabilities is the practical use of VR – whilst the primary audience might largely be gamers, VR can actually be applied to recruitment, training and work-based situations, too!
For example, some companies have begun to use VR to replicate real-life situations, in order to gauge (or coach) a response from a potential new employee.
The visual stimulation that a VR headset creates can also be an incredible way to help patients manage pain – the imagery keeps the brain busy, so it’s less focussed on the physical sensation of any surgery or procedure you’re having done.
One of my personal favourite VR applications is to do with social events; multiple people can join each other in one VR ‘world’, enhancing the fun for everybody involved. It’s great for parties, gatherings and has the potential to become the next ‘escape room’ phenomenon!
Unfortunately, VR seems to have been a little overlooked. It hasn’t performed anywhere near as well as people had expected it to, but don’t let this put you off. The more advanced that VR becomes, the more uses it will inevitably have, which will hopefully increase the popularity.
It’s widely thought that as virtual reality technology becomes more intelligent, it will play a much larger role in our lives. From the possibility of digital time travel, giving users the ability to experience Dinosaurs, to providing in-depth training that would traditionally involve a high-risk, VR is undoubtedly the future.
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