A brief history of Augmented and Virtual Reality

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Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality may seem like relatively new concepts, thanks to its recent success, but it’s not. We’re looking back at some of the crucial moments in its history. To find an exhaustive timeline for a complete guide to AR click here, and VR click here.

  • 1930s: Stanley G. Weinbaum, science fiction writer, releases ‘Pygmalion’s Spectacles’. A story about a pair of goggles that let the wearer experience a fictional world through holographic, taste, smell and touch.
  • 1950s: Cinematographer Morton Heilig developed the Sensorama, an arcade-style theatre cabinet that would stimulate all the senses. It featured stereo speakers, a stereoscopic 3D display, fans, smell generators and a vibrating chair, creating a fully immersive theatre experience for the user. Heilig created 6 unique films for the Sensorama. They included the ‘Motorcycle’, ‘Dune Buggy’, ‘A date with Sabina and I’m a coca cola bottle’!

  • 1960: Heilig went on to invent the Telesphere Mask, which is thought to be the first example of a head-mounted display. It was incredibly basic and only worked with non-interactive films without any motion tracking.
  • 1961: The first motion-tracking head mounted display is created. It had a video screen for each eye and a magnetic motion tracking system. It was originally created to allow for immersive remote viewing of dangerous situations by the military.
  • 1974: Myron Krueger built the first artificial reality lab called ‘Videoplace’. The Videoplace used computer graphics, projectors, video cameras, video displays and position-sensing technology surrounding the user to create an interactive environment that didn’t require a headset.
  • 1987: Virtual Reality finally gets a name thanks to Jaron Lanier, founder of the Visual Programming Lab. Lanier’s company developed a range of virtual reality tech, including the Dataglove, and the EyePhone mounted display. They were the first company to sell VR goggles.
  • 1990: Boeing researcher Tom Caudell coins the phrase Augmented Reality
  • 1992: VR is introduced to a large audience thanks to the Stephen King film, The Lawnmower Man. The plot takes inspiration from Jaron Lanier and his early laboratory days. Jaron was played by Pierce Brosnan, a scientist who used virtual reality therapy on a mentally disabled patient. Real virtual reality equipment from Lanier’s research labs was used in the film.
  • 1993: Sega announced its VR headset. The prototype had head tracking, stereo sound and LCD screens. However, the product was never actually released.
  • 1994: Augmented reality enters the world of theatre. Julie Martin creates the theatre production ‘Dancing in Cyberspace’ featuring projected acrobats who danced within and around virtual objects on the physical stage
  • 1995: Nintendo Virtual Boy was a 3D gaming headset. However, this was also a failure just like SEGA due to issues with colour, lack of software support and it being uncomfortable.
  • 1999: The NASA X-38 spacecraft is flown using a hybrid Synthetic Vision System that used augmented reality to overlay map data to provide enhanced visual navigation during flights.
  • 2000: Hirokazu Kato created the ARToolKit, a software library that uses video tracking to overlay computer graphics on a video camera.
  • 2009: Print media uses AR for the first time. Esquire Magazine prompts readers to scan the cover to make Robert Downey Jr. come to life on the page.
  • 2010: Palmer Luckey designed the first prototype of Oculus Rift. It was built on a shell of another VR headset but he was able to add a 90-degree field of vision, which was a completely new feature to any headsets. Facebook purchases it in 2014 for $2BN
  • 2014: Google announced shipment of Google Glass.
  • 2015: VR starts to be used in the mainstream media: The BBC creates a 360-degree video where users view a Syrian migrant camp, the Wall Street Journal launched a VR roller coaster that followed the Ups and downs of the Nasdaq stock market.
  • 2015: AR and VR investments reach $700 million year
  • 2016: AR and VR investments reach $1 Billion
  • 2016: Pokemon Go is released. It quickly became the most popular smartphone application and as a result the popularity of augmented reality games increases
  • 2019: investments in AR and VR are expected to reach over $4 Billion

The big question, however, is where AR and VR will go in the future. Well, I asked the Giggle’s managing director, Jonathan Brigden, and Giggle founder Steve Garratt, for their thoughts:

“While Virtual Reality is solo experience it is going to never take off. The addition of reality on the world using devices such as Magic Leap or HoloLens opens up everything to a more open shared experience. We are currently working on ways of creating immersive environments that can be shared experiences for events and entertainment experience.” Jonathan Brigden
“The true coming of age for VR is still to happen. It’s solo nature does limit application but if the power of non-linear or sandbox storytelling can be delivered then it will certainly have a place in gaming and the home environment. AR for me is the real game changer though. The seamless integration of our digital existence with the analogue world is the promise of every science fiction story in the last 30 years. However to make this really work, it has to be effortless and we are still awaiting the tech leap that will make AR pervasive.” Steve Garratt

Where do you think AR and VR will take us in the future?

If you’re intrigued by Steve and Jonathan’s thoughts and want something like that at your next event then why not give us a call on +44 (0)117 972 0081 or email Jon at jon@studiogiggle.co.uk and Steve at steve@studiogiggle.co.uk



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