Virtual Reality: Past and Present

Friday, October 25, 2013

Virtual Reality

 Virtual Reality
From Sensorama in the 1950's to today's Oculus Rift, virtual reality has long been the technology with a lot of promise, but little delivery.  That trend is changing though, as more and more practical applications are being found and the hardware is catching up to our perception.

Virtual reality has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the 1950s. These days, it's becoming closer to being an everyday reality, with popular technology such as the Oculus Rift, and organizations large and small figuring out exactly what the practical applications of virtual reality are for their industry.

The Washington Post reports the Centers for Disease Control is gearing up to use virtual reality as a way to accustom its workers on how to deal with actual crisis situations they'll be heading into. It gives an immersive type of training that could only be duplicated by sending trainees to the environments they're going to be working in. While you might not run into helmet-wearing individuals around every corner yet, the advance of virtual reality technology is making a sci-fi future become closer to present-day reality. Now if only they could get flying cars on the mark already.

The Beginnings

In the '50s, cinematographer Morton Heilig wanted to create a technology that helped movie storytelling by engaging every sense. It wasn't until 1957, that he had a physical representation of his idea called the Sensorama. It was not the most elegant-looking machine, as it was composed of a stereoscopic display for the visual, and stimulated the rest of the senses with fans, odor devices, speakers and a chair that simulated movement.

The Origin of Wearable Technology
Photo by Flickr user mikecogh

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Eventually, he also created a 3D head-mounted television. Virtual reality didn't start to become popular until 1984, when Michael McGreevy started looking into virtual reality technology to create human computer interfaces. None of this technology was actually referred to as virtual reality until a few years later.

Modern Day

Virtual reality still isn't a particular pervasive technology in the modern day, but a few recent advances are set to change the public opinion and increase the amount of practical usage throughout many industries. The Oculus Rift, one of the most well-known pieces of virtual reality technology these days, is a head-mounted display geared at the video game industry. Currently only available as a $300 dev kit, this virtual reality machine has received a lot of developer attention. Just imagine playing "Battlefield 4" or another first-person shooter in a completely immersive fashion. There are some major issues with the machine, such as motion sickness, that the company is currently fixing.

Orlovsky and Oculus Rift
Photo of Oculus Rift by Sergey Galyonkin via Wikimedia Commons

Another company takes on a slightly different visual tactic than the Oculus Rift. Avegant displays the graphics directly to your retinas, by what's known as virtual retinal display (VRD), making it a more immersive form of technology.

Practical Applications

The Oculus Rift is a great piece of technology and proof of concept, but the real question is exactly how companies will use virtual reality technology in practical applications. The educational world can make use of virtual reality for immersive teaching lessons, allowing students to experience ancient cultures, get up close and personal with dangerous animals, and fly through space for a bird's-eye view of the stars. The military also has many areas they can use virtual reality in, such as combat field training without the risk of throwing unseasoned soldiers directly onto the battlefield.

By Bobby RotterdamSubscribe to 33rd Square

Author Bio - Bobby builds custom gaming PCs during the day and plays his own at night. He loves writing about the latest gaming hardware.