The history of VR
When we speak of virtual reality, augmented and mixed, we always think of emerging technologies; a disruptive product of the 21st century, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things or Big Data. However, and as happens with other technologies, the birth of this is not spontaneous but the result of many small advances that, for more than 100 years, have made it possible to achieve the results we know today.
In this article we propose a journey through history to know all the antecedents of virtual reality and the proper names of those who made it possible, without whose contributions virtual reality would not have been able to reach the levels that we enjoy today (nor those that are come).
Wheatstone´s stereoscopic viewer
This stereoscopic viewer, invitnado by Charles Wheatstone, allows to create an illusion of depth in an image from two slightly different photographs, which are combined in our brain as a single stereoscopic image.
The Brewster stereoscope
At the end of the decade of the 1940s, David Brewster patented his lenticular stereoscopic viewer, which allowed to see images, which appear to be in 3D, through a wooden box, with two binoculars at the top and openings for the entrance of light.
The Link Trainer, better known as the ``Blue Box``, is considered the first flight simulator. It was created by Edwin A. Link to teach pilots how to handle flight instruments. The device was able to simulate the weather conditions and move following the orders of the pilot, in order to achieve a virtual training the closest thing to a real flight.
The Pygmalion's spectacles
Publication of the science fiction story ``Pygmalion's spectacles``, by Stanley G. Weinbaum, first literary record where virtual reality is addressed. Its protagonist experiences the world through glasses; a world with smell, taste and touch.
The term virtual reality is born
The poet, actor and theater director, Antonin Artaud, defined in his work ``The theater and its double`` virtual reality as a fictitious reality based on ghosts of objects, people and images. That is, the induced reinterpretation of the information of an object or image, transcending the consensual reality and creating a new one in which the limits are diluted at will.
The View-Master system, invented by William Gruber, is a device that allows a simultaneous double visualization, one per eye, simulating the sensation of depth in the perception of binocular time space. Its use soon led to the children's toy, thanks to which the View-Master still survives today.
The inventor and technological pioneer Morton Heilig developed at the beginning of the 60s what can be considered as the first sensory immersion machine, or virtual reality. Sensorama was able to show stereoscopic images in 3D in a cabin, which in addition to sight and sound also reproduced other sensory effects, such as smell or the sensation of wind. However, its creator could not get financial support and the project stopped.
The Sword of Damocles
The device known as ``Sword of Damocles`` is considered as the first virtual reality glasses. It was created in 1968 by computer scientist Ivan Sutherland. It receives this name because of its shape, similar to a sword, and because it hung over the user's head. It is an articulated mechanical arm that, due to its weight, was fixed to the ceiling with a visualization system connected to a computer. It was composed of two small stereoscopic screens and a support to be adjusted to the head of a user.
VR technology is born
Despite all the progress made until the mid-1980s, there was no specific research field that combined all the immersive technological advances in the same direction. In 1987, Jaron Lanier, founder of the Visual Programming Lab (VPL), created the first research area of this technique, which from now on officially becomes known as ``Virtual Reality``.
The Lawnmower Man
The film The Lawnmower Man was the first to introduce the concept of virtual reality to the general public. It is based in part on the advances made by Jaron Lanier in his VR laboratory, albeit with a dystopian character. In the argument, a scientist manages to extraordinarily increase the intelligence of a mentally handicapped person through a combination of drugs and virtual reality. But the brain power of this individual soon escapes the scientist's control.
SEGA VR glasses
During the 1993 Consumer Electronics Show, SEGA presented the Sega VR glasses for the Sega Genesis console. It was a prototype consisting of an enveloping system, which had an LCD screen, tracking system and stereo sound that was going to have a price of $ 200. However, numerous technical difficulties meant that the device did not go beyond the development phase, so it never reached the market.
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Originally known as VR-32, it was a video game console presented as the first portable device capable of playing 3D content. It was marketed in Japan and the United States at a price of $ 180. Despite its low price, it was a tremendous commercial failure. In large part this was due to the lack of color in the graphics (the games were in red and black), the lack of technical support and the difficulty of using the console in a comfortable position. In 1996, it stopped being produced and was removed from the commercial catalog of Nintendo.
In 2010 Palmer Luckey began working on the design of virtual reality devices. Two years later he founded Oculus VR, a company dedicated to the manufacture of virtual reality glasses that broke existing molds, a fact he achieved with the Oculus Rift. In 2014 Facebook bought Palmer Oculus for 1450 million euros.
Samsung Gear VR
In 2015 the Korean company Samsung presented the first commercial version of its VR glasses, developed in collaboration with Oculus VR. Unlike the Rift, which works connected to a PC, the unit works by introducing certain high-end Samsung phone models inside it. Its economic price, together with good features, was the first big wave in the acquisition of virtual reality devices by non-professional users.
In August 2018, after more than 3 years of work, the Magic Leap One, the first mixed-reality device called to revolutionize the extended reality sector, went on sale for developers. Unlike the previous models, these glasses allow to include virtual objects in real environments thanks to their photonic chips of luminous field.