Every day, technology makes new advances. One of these advances is something called “virtual reality”. According to the Oxford Dictionary:
Virtual reality refers to the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional
image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way
by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen
inside or gloves fitted with sensors.
Our reality as we know it comes from our senses. Our brain gathers each individual piece of information from our 5 senses and forms that into our world. So if we show our senses info that may not exist but our senses believe it is real, you would then perceive it as real. You would be creating another reality that doesn’t exist but in your brain, it is your reality. This is what is referred as virtual reality
The history of virtual reality goes back as far as 1962 when one of the first virtual reality machines was made. According to Grigore Burdea, writer of Virtual Reality Technology, the device was called “The Sensorama” (3). It was created and patented by Morton Heilig. He created this invention to be “The Cinema of the Future” (3) as he called it in his 1955 research paper. It was an immersive experience that permitted interaction. The invention contained a headset that displayed three-dimensional images in stereoscopic format. Factmyth.com say’s “Stereoscopic simply means, in layman’s terms, two pictures offset from each other which when viewed through a ‘stereoscope’ create a three-dimensional composite image” (DeMichele).
That is precisely how we perceive depth with our eyes. One eye views an image slightly offset from another, and the brain can decipher the offsets as depth. “The Sensorama” did much more than just provide visuals, it also provided stereo audio, motion, wind, and aromas. It mimicked motion by tilting the chair in which the user was sitting and moved it back and forth. For example, a bike ride through New York City. The user would feel vibrations from the seat when he hit bumps or potholes in the street. For the wind, Heilig attached a small fan next to the user’s head so that he could feel the wind. Finally, he incorporated aromas. He did this by adding vials of certain fragrances and had the machine do a slight spray to mimic the smell of the air and the smell of New York. Heilig was definitely ahead of his time, Burdea says, “He was like Thomas Edison, an inventor who not only dreamed ideas but also transformed them into real machines” (4).
Unfortunately, Heilig was so ahead of his time that no one understood his vision. Engadget.com explains, “At the time, it was near impossible to find investors, leaving the Sensorama stalled in the prototype stage” (Turi). A lot of time went by without any significant advancements in the virtual reality field. Frank Steinicke, the writer of Being Really virtual, writes:
Due to the fact that VR was clunky, expensive, and not available in living rooms, the
general interest of the public dropped down. As it turned out, immersive VR
headsets did not define the way how humans interacted with computers in the
first decade of the new millennium. Once a synonym for the future, VR faded from
public consciousness, and the “death of VR” had become a standard narrative.
But then came the “Smart Phone VR Era” (Steinicke). Basically, we now carry little supercomputers in our pockets every day. Smartphones almost eliminate the issues of the past with it being clunky expensive and unavailable. It also led to a revival in the interest in Virtual Reality. Several large technology companies started to create non-commercial virtual reality devices that anybody could use and that was affordable. HTC and Oculus were one of the first to highly produce these VR devices to the public. HTC created the “HTC Vive” and Oculus created the “Oculus Rift”. They are still some of the top innovators today when it comes to virtual reality. Every year they are trying to improve virtual reality to get it closer, and closer to actual reality. Who knows? Perhaps one day it will be so realistic there will be no reason to even come back to actual reality.
Virtual reality has been all over the place. It has had its ups and its downs but people are still working hard to keep it in front of the people and not let it drift away like it did with Heilig. He had everything all squared away as far as the fully immersive VR, but unfortunately had no one to back him up. Now with all the large companies with large budgets increasingly going into research and development, the sky’s the limit. Brendan Iribe, CEO Oculus Rift say’s “There’s decades of innovations ahead. We’re at the very beginning, where it’s just at the stage where we can bring in consumers but there’s so much further to go from there” (Kamen). I’m looking forward to the future of virtual reality.