In our blog post written in April 2014, Will Virtual be the new actual? We spoke about Facebook’s decision to acquire Oculus Rift for $2 billion, a purchase that served as a clear indicator of how potentially important Facebook considered virtual reality to be in the future of digital communications. 2 years later, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer strapped on his Oculus Rift headset, grabbed a pair of Oculus Touch controllers and in a keynote live stream for F8 conference 2016 single-handedly convinced the world that Social VR was very much a concept to get on board with.
But what is VR and where did it come from? The all-encompassing term ‘Virtual Reality’ was officially born in 1987, and typically refers to computer technology that uses software to simulate a user’s physical prescience in a certain environment, real or imaginary, generating realistic images, sounds and other sensations. The concept of VR can be attributed to a number of historical sources and technological advances which span hundreds of years. From the Panoramic paintings of the 19th Century, to the launch of the Link trainer (pictured below, source: Prairie Aviation Museum), the first commercial flight simulator in 1929, VR’s evolution, albeit unhurried, has definitely started to pick up momentum in recent years.
Whilst there are many early instances of VR, perhaps more notable because of its relevance to it’s modern day successors, is Sir Charles Wheatstone’s Stereoscope, created in 1838. A Stereoscope is a device used to view a pair of two different two-dimensional images from each eye, which are processed by the brain into displaying a single three-dimensional immersive object. The same design principal and research into how the brain processes these stereoscopic images is still used today for low budget VR head mounted devices, perhaps most famously it is used for the Google Cardboard device.
More eerily, in the 1930s, science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum wrote a book titled Pygmalion’s Spectacles, which rather uncannily predicted the modern experience of VR. Weinbaum created this idea of a pair of goggles that let the wearer experience the smell, touch and taste of a fictional world through the use of holographics which is why he is considered a true visionary in this field.
Other significant evolutions of the VR timeline and on the radar of every avid video-gamer of the 90’s include the 1991 Virtuality Group Arcade Machines, the 1993 SEGA VR glasses (which will forever remain in the prototype phase due to countless technical difficulties) and the 1995 Nintendo Virtual Boy.
So whilst the rise of VR has been a long time coming, it’s on the mso radar for 2017 for sure, as this once discounted technology makes its transition to a palpable tool for a wave of consumer content.