January 22, 2021 · 11 min read

History of Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality may seem like a new and novel concept to most of us, but while the technology used to create it is new, the idea itself is not. Virtual Reality history has long and fascinating roots in the art world. And the timeline of VR advancements is something we should all understand to truly appreciate the rich and complex history of the concept of Virtual Reality.

The idea of immersing oneself in a “virtual world” can be traced back as far as 20 A.D. in the ancient city of Pompeii. They used intricate 360-degree murals to paint landscapes and immerse the viewer in the beauty of the vistas. From there, the idea has evolved in more captivating ways. Many of these murals from ancient times depicted landscape and scenery, but they also evolved later to include scenes that involved the early stages of medicine.

Timeline of Virtual Reality

To better understand the timeline, it is essential to note that even though the term “panorama” was coined in the late 1700s, as Pompeii’s murals show us, the concept has been around for a very, very long time. Artists have long attempted to capture the minds and hearts of those who beholden their masterpieces and make them feel like they are elsewhere.

  • 19th-century panorama paintings — Panorama mural became much more popular in the 1800s as artists increasingly moved away from painting on canvas.
  • 1838 — Stereoscopic viewers were invented after Charles Wheatstone realized that placing two copies of a single image in front of each eye gave the image depth. In 1839, the ViewMaster stereoscope started producing commercially available stereoscopic devices for “virtual tourism.” Other devices and improvements on the stereoscope came as a result of Wheatstone’s work.
  • 1929 — The first flight simulator was invented by Edward Link, called the Link Trainer. It comprised motors, gears, and pulleys that mimicked pitch, roll, turbulence, and other disturbances. This invention proved invaluable for training pilots during World War II.
  • 1935 — This is the first known mention and prediction of Virtual Reality. In his book, Pygmalion’s Spectacles, Stanley Weinbaum spoke of a pair of goggles that allowed one to visit virtual worlds through holographic imagery and other connected devices that could produce sounds, tastes, and smells.
  • 1950s — Patented and introduced in 1962, Morton Heilig’s Sensorama invention resembled a retro-style arcade video game and had components that stimulated all five senses. A vibrating chair, speakers, stereoscopic images, and smell generators combined to create the first genuinely immersive VR in history.
  • 1960 — The Telesphere Mask was created in 1960 as the first VR headset. It provided a stereoscopic view and speakers.
  • 1961 — From the Telesphere Mask grew the Headsight, the first HMD. It was developed as a way for the military to observe dangerous situations from afar. As the user moved their head, a remote-controlled camera would move in tandem to provide views from different angles.
  • 1965 — Robert Mann built the first VR in history used for medical purposes to provide a new training environment in orthopedics.
  • 1969 — From the introduction of Headsight, the 1960s was an impressive era of innovation for VR’s timeline. Myron Kruegere developed a computer-controlled device that allowed users to experience many different scenarios, which led to him coining the term “artificial reality.”
  • 1970s, 1980s, 1990s — During these three decades, governments and entrepreneurs alike saw the promise of virtual reality. There was an explosion of new devices, capabilities, and uses, from video games to military applications. In the 1980s, HMD displays became used much more widely in the medical fields.
  • 2000s — This brings us pretty much up-to-date with the current technology we see advancing the field of Virtual Reality and Artificial Reality. Nearly every industry is poised to be disrupted by the mass adoption of VR devices. Its use in the medical and healthcare sectors is incredibly full of promise.

As we piece everything together, it is clear that the history of VR has culminated into what we know it as today. It is awe-inspiring to think of what the future may hold for VR. The uses for VR in the medical, scientific, and healthcare industries appears poised to become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the 21st-century.

Ghost Productions is one of the premier pioneering companies to use 3D computer-rendered visualization to stimulate and explain surgical procedures, scientific animations, MOA, and much more. We invite you to contact Ghost Productions to discuss your ideas and start your project today!