In the year 1995, Nintendo released a gaming console which was meant to simulate a 3D view. It was called the Nintendo Virtual Boy. It was one of Nintendo’s only products to have failed, which says a lot about Nintendo as a company, they were gaming giants in their time. It was the last fruitful attempt at getting VR into the mainstream, in the 20th century. Here, we trace the history of VR and how we reached the current generation of VR headsets in the 21st century:
The point of VR is to visually transport us to some place where we don’t physically have to go. In the 1800s, this was why some paintings were supposed to be panoramic, and 360 degree murals were also a thing back then. The idea behind that was to show people how a scene could look if we were actually there, much like the purpose served by VR.
The invention of the stereoscope in 1838 changed everything. Nearly 100 years after that, the Viewmaster came into existence and it later on ended up becoming a toy for kids to use. These inventions could only be used to look at images in 3D though, videos weren’t common back then. The first VR video platform was the Sensorama in 1956, patented in 1962. Although flight simulators already existed by then, the Sensorama was supposed to make people feel like they were living in the movie that they watched. Obviously, this invention was not easily affordable and this means that it could not get popular but this is the father of all 4D movies.
Inventions which paved the way for the current technologies
After this, came Headsight in 1961 which was a military developed headset which could also track head movements and was used for an immersive experience of dangerous situations for military people. Some could say that it paved the way for the present day VR headsets.
The next big inventions came in the 1980s with VPL Research releasing 3 products which could be viewed as the origin of the immersive VR experience with a bodysuit. The 3 products were the DataGlove, the DataSuit, and my personal favourite due to its name, the EyePhone
After that, we saw gaming picking up on this trend with Sega being the first to make an attempt to make a VR headset. They failed but they saved themselves the problem of production because they could never get past the prototype phase. Then came the aforementioned Nintendo Virtual Boy, which also failed.
No matter how hard you try though, it seems impossible for us to have reached the current generation of VR products without this constant cycle of failure and research. VR products aren’t a complete success yet but it is a field which is predicted to boom in the next few years, for that we have to thank the pioneers of the past.
(The article is authored by Nishant Nijhawan, Intern, Techxty.com. Nishant is a student of computer engineering at Delhi Technical University who believes in optimal usage of technology.)