Many people think of virtual reality as a fairly new technology, but the truth is that it’s actually been around for decades. In fact, the first technical developments that eventually led to virtual reality can be traced back to the early 1800s. But of course, virtual reality has come a long way from its humble beginnings. When was virtual reality first invented? How has its use evolved over the years? Take a look back at the history of virtual reality:
1838: The Stereoscope
In 1838, Sir Charles Wheatstone became the first person to explain stereopsis, which is the perception of depth and three-dimensional structures. He also conducted extensive research on binocular vision. Through this research, he demonstrated how the brain was able to perceive the depth and dimension of an object by combining two photographs, one from each eye.
Later, he invented the stereoscope based on this research. His research and the invention of the stereoscope paved the way for virtual reality technology of the future.
The Sensorama, which was the first virtual reality machine, was invented in 1956, but not patented until 1962. The Sensorama was essentially a booth that was large enough to fit around four people at once. It was designed to stimulate all of the senses using a combination of vibrations, audio speakers, wind, smells, and 3D videos. In the end, only six films were produced for the Sensorama, but it did influence the virtual reality technology of the future.
1960s: The Introduction of Virtual Reality Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs)
Many technological developments related to virtual reality technology occurred in the 1960s. The Telesphere Mask, which was the first head-mounted display (HMD), was introduced in 1960. The mask was not designed with motion tracking technology, but it was designed to present three-dimensional images and surround sound.
But a year later, the first HMD with motion tracking technology was invented. Headsight was used exclusively by the military, so consumers never had a chance to test out this new and innovative technology.
In 1968, Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull developed the first virtual reality HMD with motion tracking technology for consumer use. Thanks to the motion tracking technology, the virtual world created by this headset would change depending on the user’s movements. But unfortunately, the headset was too bulky and uncomfortable to wear, so it never went into production.
1970s: Emergence of Virtual Reality Products For Consumers
The 1970s marked the first time that virtual reality products were made available to consumers. In 1975, VIDEOPLACE allowed multiple users to interact with one another in a virtual world. The users’ movements were recorded by cameras and reproduced in the virtual world using computer-generated silhouettes.
In 1977, researchers at MIT created the Aspen Movie Map. Similar to Google Street View, Aspen Movie Map allowed people to virtually roam the streets of Aspen from hundreds or thousands of miles away. This was the first time that virtual reality was used to virtually transport users to another location.
1980s & 1990s: Virtual Reality Explodes in Popularity
Virtual reality technology became increasingly popular in the 1980s and 1990s. One milestone occurred in 1985, when VPL Research was founded. VPL Research is known as the first company in history to sell virtual reality accessories, including goggles and headsets.
In the late 1980s, NASA awarded a contract to Crystal River Engineering, a small company that was tasked with using virtual reality technology to create a simulator that could be used to train astronauts.
In the early 1990s, SEGA announced plans to produce a virtual reality headset that consumers could use to play video games at home. Multiple games were made for the headset, but ultimately, the product was never released.
However, VictorMaxx released the CyberMaxx, a virtual reality headset, several years later.
Virtual Reality in Today’s World
There are now a number of different virtual reality products that are available to consumers. Some of the biggest virtual reality milestones that occurred over the last two decades include:
- 2007: Google introduced Street View, which used virtual reality technology to transport users to different locations.
- 2010: The prototype for the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, was developed.
- 2013: HTC and Valve teamed up to launch HTC Vive.
- 2014: Sony introduced the Playstation VR gaming console.
- 2015: Google announced the Cardboard DIY Virtual Reality Headset.
Thanks to inventions like these, virtual reality is now used in countless ways across a wide range of industries.
Virtual Reality in the Automotive Industry
One industry that has embraced virtual reality technology is the automotive industry. The automotive industry uses virtual reality technology in a number of different ways, including:
- In-Car Features
- Virtual Shopping Experience
Automotive manufacturers have used virtual reality technology to design many types of in-car features, including GPS systems, backup cameras, digital driver displays, and infotainment systems. These features make the driving experience safer, more convenient, and more enjoyable for drivers.
Virtual Shopping Experience
Many automotive companies have used virtual reality technology to completely transform the shopping experience for consumers. Now, consumers no longer need to visit an automotive dealership in person to test drive vehicles. Instead, they can take a virtual test drive of any vehicle on the lot using their smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Automotive consumers can also look for a new vehicle inside a virtual showroom instead of visiting a showroom in-person. They can walk around the vehicle, explore the interior, and inspect the exterior from all angles just as they would if they were in a real showroom.
Both of these applications of virtual reality technology makes the shopping experience far more convenient for automotive consumers.
Automotive companies also use virtual reality technology to design and manufacture vehicles.
In today’s world, automotive designers can create virtual prototypes of new vehicles instead of clay prototypes. If something needs to be added or removed, the changes can be made directly to the virtual prototype.
Using virtual reality technology in this manner makes designing new vehicles more affordable and drastically reduces the time it takes to finalize a design.
Virtual reality has come a long way since it was first introduced to the world, but its journey is far from over. Virtual reality has a promising future. There’s no telling how this technology will continue to evolve in the years ahead. But it will undoubtedly bring about new and exciting changes to the automotive industry and the world as a whole.