THE BLOG

Where Did Virtual Reality Come From? And Where Is It Going?

25/10/2016 13:22

Virtual Reality seems to be everywhere at the moment.

Companies are investing heavily in the technology and marketers are increasingly looking at creative way of using it to promote their brands. Even children are getting in on the action; my kids were recently handed a free Google Cardboard device at an event, which proved very popular.

So where has the virtual reality revolution come from? Whilst it might feel like it's appeared overnight, this revolutionary tech has been many decades in the making.

We can trace the evolution of VR back to the 1960s. Inventor Morten Heilig patented the design for a "Telesphere Mask" in 1960. This device was a headset which provided stereoscopic 3D and wide vision with stereo sound. The idea for the mask was wildly innovative for the time, but the venture was a commercial failure and never got off the ground.

However, in 1962, Heilig went on to build the 'Sensorama'. Looking like an old-school arcade game, the Sensorama allowed people to pretend they were riding a motorcycle, complete with wind on their face and a 3D view. Again though, the outrageous costs of building the technology stopped it from becoming a success.

But Heilig's pioneering inventions laid the groundwork for the VR technology developed since.

The 1980s saw a big leap forward in sophistication, with the 'Eye Phone' developed by tech company HRL. VPL's founder, Jared Venier, actually coined the phrase 'virtual reality' for the first time during this phase of development. More complex and with greater capabilities, this ground-breaking technology did not come cheap, with the full set of kit setting you back tens of thousands of dollars.

By the 1990s, big companies like SEGA and Nintendo were getting involved, investing money in new prototypes and applications. Despite their efforts, adoption remained low and costs stayed sky high.

Steady work on developing the tech throughout recent years has bought us to today, where companies like Oculus Rift can offer incredibly impressive virtual reality experiences through their gear. Augmented reality, (where we add to our existing world rather than 'escaping' to another) has also hit the mainstream, thanks to Pokemon GO and snapchat filters.

But although a huge amount of progress has been made, we remain a long way from VR becoming a fixture of our daily lives. The hardware is still too pricey and too cumbersome to attract mass adoption, and we've got some way to go when it comes to the software too. So whilst brands and companies can take advantage of VR in its current state (with often impressive and impactful results), we've got a few years to go before we're using them at the dinner table.

Ran is CEO and Co-Founder of Flat Rock Technology

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