The Evolution Of Virtual Reality

by andrew-michailidis

Nowadays, Virtual Reality is a very common thing to hear. Mobile devices,consoles,computers and the majority of software supports virtual reality with the help of the appropriate gear.

The term Virtual Reality didn’t have the same meaning throughout the centuries. The basic definition of the term Virtual Reality is : Technologies that use the software in order to create a realistic environment including images,sounds,touch and other sensations.

From the mid-1400s since 1959 the term Virtual Reality referred to being something in essence or effect,though not actually in fact, nowadays when we use the term Virtual Reality we talk about something not existing but made to appear in the software (computers).

Apart from the definition of Virtual Reality it is really interesting to see how it became possible for us today to use goggles and a controller and feel like we are in a different space than the one we are. How this technology developed throughout the centuries?

Here’s a timeline of the evolution of Virtual Reality or artificial reality or even immerse multimedia.

Early attempts

A great way to understand the meaning of Virtual Reality and to not connect it straight away with new age technologies is to understand that even Panoramic Paintings of the 19th century were a form of virtual reality. The 360 degree paintings capturing battles, landscapes and other fascinating sights made the observer feel present somewhere he was not.

1838: The Stereoscope (Charles Wheatstone)

Using the theory which supports that the brain can process two different 2-D images from each eye into a single object of 3 dimensions, Charles Wheatstone created the Stereoscope. The Stereoscope has a similar design with today’s cheap VR cardboards.

1930: Pygmalion’s Spectacles

Stanley G. Weinbaum achieved to predict VR technology via his movie called: Pygmalion’s Spectacles. There’s the idea of a pair of goggles that can make the user experience a world through holographics,smell,taste and touch.

The 1950s: Sensorama (Morton Heilig)

The Sensorama was an ”experience theater” which was able to stimulate all the senses. It had speakers,fans,3D display and a vibrating chair. You were able to watch 5 short films through the device and experience a VR journey. The films were called : Motorcycle, Belly Dancer, Dune Buggy, Helicopter , a date with Sabina and I’m a Coca-Cola bottle!

1970-1990: Aspen Movie Map (M.I.T-1978)

The Aspen Movie Map was a hypermedia system developed by a team working with Andrew Lippman at MIT. Using the Aspen Movie Map, you were able to take a virtual tour through the streets of Aspen ,Colorado. You could choose between 3 modes : Summer,winter, and polygon.

With the first two modes, you were able to see the city during summer and winter. How was that possible? The team captured every possible movement in these two seasons , in the city streets using a vehicle and cameras mounted on the front back and the sides of the vehicle. Using the Polygon mode, you were able to see a basic 3D model of the city.


Atari is creating a VR research lab. The attempt lasted only two years. They were forced to close the lab because of the Atari Shock ( A recession of the video game industry that caused the bankruptcy of several computer companies).


1991: the Sega VR headset.

The Sega VR was a virtual reality headset that was developed by Sega. It could be used in arcade games and in Sega Drive, a console made by Sega. The headset consisted of LCD screens and sensors that could track the movement of the player’s head.

1991: Virtuality

Virtuality was the fist massive produced VR system. It is a line of virtual reality gaming machines produced by Virtuality Group. The VR system consisted of a headset ,exoskeleton gloves , tracking devices and other enclosure designs. You were able to use Virtuality in two modes: Either standing up or down. The use of a magnetic tracking system was able to track the player’s head movements and react by changing what the player could see in the game. The exoskeleton device or the joysticks were the player’s virtual hands.

2000 and on

 In 2001, SAS3 or SAS cube was the first cubic room based on VR. Later on, in 2007 Google creates Street View. Street View was a panoramic view of a huge amount of worldwide positions. The user is able to wander around the streets of numerous cities, see popular monuments or even his own house ( not the inside, though! ). In 2010 Palmer Luckey ( founder of Oculus ) designs the first prototype of Oculus Rift. In 2014 Facebook buys Oculus VR for the insane amount of 2billion dollars. At the same year, Sony announces Project Morpheus ( the code name for PlayStation VR) a VR device that can be used on PlayStation 4. Furthermore, Google announces Cardboard, a Do It Yourself viewer for smartphones. In 2015 HTC and Valve announces HTV Vive a VR package with controllers. Their tracking technology called Lighthouse is using base stations , mounted in the corners of a wall above the player’s head and with the help of light beams it can track the player’s moves. The same year Samsung announces Samsung VR, a mobile virtual reality headset that can be used on Samsung Galaxy phone models. It has a touchpad and a back button attached to the headset,including a proximity sensor.

The year 2016

Virtual reality was always a fascinating idea that had to be imprinted and become a reality.The year 2016 and 2017 will surely be the year of Virtual reality as many kickstart companies come to life and they are ready to give life to their blueprints while colossal companies are investing on VR. Will we be able to enjoy a free of technical problems, as close as possible to real life, virtual reality through gaming or as a way to improve our lives in the near future? We can only be patient and wait for what the future is going to bring.