Virtual Reality: Its history and future

Virtual Reality has a brief yet rich history with many ups and downs. Even though the formal name was defined much later, there had been many attempts that resembled the Virtual Reality that we know it as today. Let’s first define the goal of Virtual Reality. It is to trick the brain to believe that something is real with the help of virtual elements, these elements can be auditory (sound) or visual (sight). But there are many parallel definitions of VR but one of the essential differentiating factors of Virtual Reality compared to other forms of media is that VR has some sort of interactivity. Unlike Movies or 3D movies where a person can only view but not interact, VR facilitates the freedom to touch, interact and control what a person sees on their screen.

History of VR

The fascination with VR goes way back to the 1930s when science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum wrote a story where he mentions about Pygmalion’s spectacles. The wearer would be able to experience the virtual world. VR was further popularized by the popular Sci-fi movie, Star Trek: The Next Generation and its Holodeck.  

­One of the first examples of VR HMD (Head Mounted Display) was ‘Sword of Damocles’ developed by Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull. The HMD was connected to a computer. The contraption setup was intimidating, cumbersome, and heavy. The graphics that were shown if the HMD were quite simplistic and trivial, but it was a convincing step towards the VR we know today. The term ‘VR’ was popularized in the 1980s by Jaron Lanier. By the end of the 1980s, NASA with the assistance of Crystal River Engineering, created Project VIEW. It was a VR simulator that was developed to train the astronauts. The 1990s saw the use of VR in multimedia and mainstream commercial spaces. Numerous virtual reality arcades were introduced in the public spaces where players could play games with immersive stereoscopic 3D visuals. The mid-1990s saw the VR foray by console manufacturers. Nintendo and SEGA both showcased their VR gaming headsets but both were a commercial failure due to technical limitations and lack of software support.

In 2012 Oculus Kickstarter had raised 2.5 million dollars and this gave the startup a monetary jumpstart that previous VR projects were not able to attain. In 2014 Facebook bought the Oculus and this ensured that the VR startup would be adequately funded in their VR developments. 2014 also saw the launch of numerous other VR developments like Google cardboard, Sony PSVR and Samsung Gear VR. In 2016 HTC released its advanced VR headset, HTC Vive. Now the focus was to make VR truly standalone free from the assistance of a dedicated computer or a smartphone.

The Future

The Future of VR looks bright, there are many factors for this but one of the major factors is the price of VR has significantly gone down. There are continual developments in the sphere of VR and various new technological innovations are attempting to make the adoption of VR much more seamless, comfortable and intuitive to use. The use of VR is not just limited to gaming but now VR is also used for many commercial and business purposes. Recently Microsoft signed an agreement with the US government to supply 120,000 semi-custom versions of Hololens VR/AR headsets. VR is increasingly used in the health and manufacturing sectors as well. With a compound annual growth of 21.6% from 2020 to 2027, it seems that VR is only going to get more mainstream in the future.