The history of virtual reality


E-sports is growing rapidly, though its future is still pretty much uncertain. Some say, technologies of the virtual reality will eventually entwine into our everyday life, and will therefore change the entire concept of e-sports. So, we decided to find out whether this assumption is true. We would like to bring to your attention the first part of the article, in which we will dive deep into the past and look at the development of the virtual reality. 



Reverberating World Wars made it absolutely clear that advanced technologies are the key to military dominance. Only those will be victorious, whose innovative inventions will be better and more advanced than the ones of their enemy. Thus, the first scientific achievements were inevitably transformed into military perks. Even the Internet appeared only due to the US Department of Defense willingness to create a network, capable of conveying data from distant observation posts.


Virtual reality was not an exception. In 1929 a training machine was developed, allowing pilots to practice. The machine could imitate the actual flight and could thus be called a virtual reality prototype. Closer to 1960 technologies of the sort started to become increasingly popular among soldiers, pilots and astronauts, who used them for the training purposes.  


In 1960 the cinematographer Morton Heilig (1926-1997) took on the development of a complex mechanism to imitate virtual reality. He was hoping to create a “cinema of the future”, the idea of which was in full immersion into the movie reality with the help of noise, wind, smell and vibration. The project went under the name Sensorama and received a patent.


This device is considered to be creating a passive virtual reality


Soon, however, the development of Sensorama stopped and Heilig could not find any investors and businessmen to support the project, since they had no idea how to sell this invention. But anyway, Sensorama basically became a prototype of the modern 3D-attractions.


In 1965 a computer scientist Ivan Sutherland began to work on the VR Helmet. He was aware that technologies of the time were unable to recreate a digital world, so he tried to accomplish the feasible part of it. And he did exactly that. A computer was creating a simple image, while the helmet with sensors was reacting to movement and creating the perception of depth. This was the first even attempt to create a VR Helmet, which was, by the way, initiated by the Department of Defense.


Photos of Ivan Sutherland working on his VR Helmet


While working on the helmet, Sutherland was writing an essay about this sort of technologies. The essay was published in the same year and it said,  "The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal”. Considering the modern “tactual technology” can imitate a touch to digital objects, Sutherland’s prediction could be called a prophecy.

In 1977 Daniel Sandin, Richard Sayre and other researchers designed the first data glove. The device was quite simple: it used fiber pins to trace the finger flexion. Despite its simplicity, the glove did not have enough application potential. The further development also did not achieve its mass production. Some gloves were too rough and made the uses get tired, others had to be calibrated for all eternity, still others cost more than $9000. Much later, when the technology price dropped down, NES tried again to mass produce the glove, though again to no avail.

Early prototypes of the glove, capable of interacting with a computer


By 1984 a scientist Jaron Lanier founded Visual Programming Language Research, Inc., looking to commercialize virtual reality technologies. His team was able to combine all the previous progress into one system. Now virtual reality encompassed an improved glove, VR Helmet and advanced software. Lanier even managed to conclude a contract with NASA to study “graphic communication”, however, in 1990 his company went bankrupt.


By that time it was obvious that virtual reality is not an artificial world one can magically sink in; it is a complex and smooth system of input-output devices. In other words, virtual reality is a group of devices that can simultaneously affect all human senses, not limited to a helmet and visualization. In order to create a true virtual reality, better studies of a human-computer interaction were needed, and they began with the movement tracking systems.


Obviously, imitating movement with keyboard and mouse is not essential for humans. We needed a machine that would allow us to move as we usually do it, feet. First such machine was developed by a group of researchers from Tsukuba University in 1989. The system was based on the sliding base principle. The user was fixed at place and controlled the virtual reality with special roller-skates.


Soon, however, the scientist would go back from the sliding base mechanism once and for all, since those movements were also unnatural for a man. In 1997 a new device would be invented, able to imitate movements on the basis of a race track. A composite construction included 12 joined race tracks, allowing user to move freely in any direction.  



In the same year American military allocated $400 000 for development of a training device for soldiers to prepare them for military operations. The development was conducted by Virtual Space Devices, but the entire process was taking place at the Army Research Lab. The engineers replaced 12 race tracks with tiny moving belts. Moreover, they put in a movement tracing system, which prohibited user to come to close to the edge of the track. And after army funding increased to $8 million, the team managed to increase the surface size and machine noise significantly.


First time in gaming industry

The 1989 Power Glove for the NES gaming console became the first attempt of such technologies to break out of military science labs and into the mass market. The glove’s position in space was determined by two dynamics, built into the glove and three receivers, attached to a TV screen. The receivers were detecting ultrasounds coming from the glove, which allowed calculating its position by three axes and a slope angle. Power Glove was being actively promoted, though it never became popular. Moreover, the glove was not very precise and many critiqued them for it.


Creative advertisement of Power Glove did not save it from getting into the worst accessories in the history list


In the summer of 1994 Nintendo announced their virtual reality project. A year later, a portable gaming console Virtual Boy made it into the market. The console could simulate 3D, but did not spark consumer interest due to a large number of drawbacks. It was equipped with a monochrome (“red and black”) display, had a poor choice of games and was released far before being ready for it. Also, the Virtual Boy users were complaining about dizziness after using the console. All of the disadvantages were loudly expressed by James AVGNRalph in one of his reviews.



And as soon as 1996 Nintendo stopped supporting the console. It was assumed that Gunpei Yokoi (1941-1997), who was in charge of the Virtual Boy project, left the company, being too disappointed by the failure. Others suggest that he was planning to retire for quite a while, but hesitated to do so. 




Despite the awkwardness and expensiveness of the most developments, they formed the basis for future inventions. The firm foundation made the present day engineers and scientist certain of the inevitable integration of virtual reality into everyday life, predicting it to happen around 2050. They further prophesize that the devices would become so complex, they would no longer be just machines.


Let’s stress once again that immersion into the virtual reality in possible only with well-oiled input-output system. This article mainly described input systems like gloves and movement tracking devices. Output systems, affecting sight, hearing, smell and touch, will be discussed in the next part. 


AuthorP0s1t1v3 Date 8 June 2015, 14:52 Views1201 Comments0
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