The History of virtual reality – Part 2

Here is the first part of the history of virtual reality =>

The History of virtual reality – Part 1

The invention of Motion Tracking – The Sword of Damocles

At the end of the 60’s, Ivan Sutherland an American become famous for inventing a software still used today by all those who make 3D (example: Pixar production), the « Sketchpad » software. But he wanted to go further. It was at MIT’s Lincoln lab that Sutherland and his colleagues made their first experiments. The first headsets were binocular, which mean that the same image was proposed to both eyes. The illusion of 3D was based this time on the fact that we see the image of the world change when we move our head. To be able to transpose this principle, the observer’s gaze needed to be support by mechanical. Since the headsets itself was already very heavy, it was necessary to use a special apparatus suspended on the ceiling. This is why they named it the “Sword of Damocles ». It wasn’t until 1970 that the first Visio headset was fully functional. It was the display of the 3D image that was the real challenge for Sutherland or more precisely, what he was calling the « hidden lines ». « Hidden lines » are the lines of the « skeleton » of an object.

When we look at the front of a cup, we can’t see his back.

When someone is drinking with this cup, we only see a small part of it.

With the « Hidden lines » it was necessary to create an elaborate algorithm so that the computer understands when it was necessary to hide or show certain parts of an object and add a detector of movements to the helmet to be able to determine the angle of view. When the user was moving their head, what they were seeing in the glasses was changing accordingly. For the first public demonstration of “The Sword of Damocles”, Sutherland was careful to specify that this type of tool could amplify the abilities of designers of three-dimensional objects (gadgets or buildings). With this technology, IBM implemented a design assistance tool for General Motors and gave birth to the AutoCad software that is now used to develop projects for architects and engineers. But 3D design not only helped the world of automobiles and construction, but it also helped the world of medicine and surgery because the human body is also a three-dimensional object.

The invention of LEEP Lenses

Eric Howlett, inventor and entrepreneur, who worked at MIT and General Electric in the field of optics and electronics, made a breakthrough in the world of virtual reality headsets thanks to “wide-angle” lenses, the LEEP (Large Expanse, Extra Perspective) lenses. Like all the pioneers we’ve seen so far, Howlett needed funding and proposed his concept to Kodak and Polaroid, and they weren’t interested. After a few years, it was NASA that contacted him to fund his invention. In fact, NASA had just opened a « Virtual Environment » department to create a helmet, the « VIVED » helmet in partnership with VPL research. In 1989 NASA asked Howlett to supply LEEPs to VPL research and he realized that VPL research was going to sell his helmet more than $ 10,000 on the public market without giving him money for the device. In response and independently of NASA, he decided to build his own helmets and created the “CyberFaces” and unfortunately it wasn’t a big success. Nowadays, all modern helmets are equipped with this LEEP technology, allowing to enlarge the FoV (Field Of View) which is used to define the visual field. During the Cold War, fighter aircraft had hugely evolved technologically and the pilots were overwhelmed. The pilots were left with so many control buttons to manage that they had difficulties in choosing the right sequence of manipulations, and being effective. Thomas Furness III, inventor, a professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Systems at the University of Washington, founder of the Human Interface Technology Lab, was inspired by the work of Edwin Albert Link, and improve the training of the drivers through the VR. Financed by the Defense, Furness offered the pilots a training session during which they had to wear an RV helmet while sitting in a cockpit model. The helmet was nicknamed « Darth Vader ». From 1991 to 2009, different kinds of helmets made their appearance on the market, without much success.

The History of virtual reality – Part 1

The passion of Palmer Luckey

In 2009, 16-year-old Palmer Luckey is both an electronic fan and a geek (passionate about the High Tech field and by extension by several specific areas including video games) At that time the video games that at that time knew a revolution, the 3D technology. Interested about this revolution Palmer makes an inventory of available technologies: 3D screens, VR920, HeadPlay, Z800, but finds flaws in each of these devices. After some researches, he announced on a forum of discussions, that he was beginning to construct his own helmet, based on the works of the lenses Leep. He made several rather convincing prototypes on which he communicated through photos posted on the internet and forums and that’s how he found a job. During his study, he was debauched by a university (ICT) to work in the laboratory of « mixed reality ». Their project was to design a VR headset to low cost.

In early 2012, John Carmack, also tries to build a VR helmet, and was actually inscribed on the same forum where Palmer showed the evolution of his research, they shared, exchanged and from there was born a complicity a friendship. Together they improved Palmer’s prototype and gave birth to the « Kickstarter » helmet, which is actually the grandfather of the current Oculus Rift.

The History of virtual reality – Part 1

Palmer decided to give up his studies and create the company « Oculus VR », to launch the Kickstarter campaign. This collaborative fundraising campaign raised $ 2.4 million. In 2014, Facebook acquires Oculus VR for $ 2 billion. Palmer Luckey joins Mark Zuckerberg’s company. On March 31, 2017, Palmer Luckey officially resigns from Facebook after several months of absence and media silence. Also in 2014, Sony announced its project of virtual reality headset for their home console, and after a while, it becomes Playstation VR. Samsung announces also their virtual reality headset, initially called “Gear VR” and later renamed as Samsung Gear VR. November 2015, the Samsung Gear VR is available for purchase. In 2016, several virtual reality headsets were marketed. Among them, the Oculus Rift released in March, and the Playstation VR in October. The year 2015 – 2016 was a huge boom for the virtual reality headset market. Today, many helmets are on the market, but there are still limits. Being still at the dawn of its possibilities, virtual reality has a problem of content! 

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