The history of virtual reality stretches back further than most people realize. Today’s tech, featuring goggles and controllers that bring a three-dimensional (3D) world to life all around us, is based on ideas that were introduced as early as the 1800s; after the invention of photography. These 3D photos had long-lasting appeal. Ever clicked through an old “Viewmaster” to see 3D slides come to life? This is virtual reality in its most basic form, and toys like the Viewmaster are based on photography techniques and 3D imaging that is nearly as old as photography itself.
When virtual reality was first invented depends on your definition of when it was created as an idea, versus a basic VR image, versus the headsets, like the Oculus, we use today. Virtual reality as a 3D image emerged in the 1800s, a work of fiction about virtual reality was published in the 1930s, and the first headset was created in the late 1950s. There are multiple key dates and milestones in the virtual reality timeline, including:
Key dates on the VR timeline show how this technology started as an idea and a fantasy to a technology that’s accessible in many places throughout the world. VR technology has come a long way from Ivan Sutherland’s “Sword of Damocles” headset, invented in 1968. This big, unwieldy contraption presented a 3D room that was a very basic example of what was come in the world of virtual reality. A year later, Myron Krueger developed this technology further with the VIDEOPLACE program. His program allowed users to communicate with each other in a computerized environment. Developments in VR tech led to flight simulators, travel simulations, and Sayre gloves that allowed for simulated hand and finger motion.
In 1985, the VPL Research pioneers became the first company to sell VR headsets and the “DataGlove”. In the late ’80s, NASA further developed VR technology to help train astronauts and from there. Technology was accessible enough for Nintendo to create the Power Glove and for arcades to use VR in game systems that anyone could enjoy.
In 2010, the Oculus Kickstarter was launched, and created the modern VR revolution. With video game platforms like PlayStation and Xbox creating VR systems and capabilities, the tech and appeal are spreading. New users join the virtual reality world daily.
We can credit the term “virtual reality” to one of the founders of VPL Research, Jaron Lanier. Jaron Lanier and Tom Zimmerman poured research into the field of virtual reality, arguably more so than any other professional. They can be credited as the inventors of the modern virtual reality headsets and controllers that we use today, although they certainly built on the work of many scientists who came before them.