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The invention of Virtual Reality

The invention of Virtual Reality

Many people assume that virtual reality is a recent arrival on the technological scene, but in fact, it goes back much further than many of us realise. Virtual reality is considered to have begun in the 1950’s but early elements of it can be traced back to the 1860’s and long before the development of digital technology.

An example of this is large, 360 degree murals which enabled the observer to engage with the artwork on a simple level. Further artistic examples could be found in the avant-garde work of French playwright Antonin Artaud who considered illusion and reality to be one and the same. He argued that a theatre audience should suspend their disbelief and consider the performance to be reality.

Early simulation device

Fast forward to the 1920’s and the development of the world’s first flight simulator by Edwin Link. This was designed as a training device for novice pilots. Virtual reality has re-invented itself into something which fits our vision and expectations of what this technology can do. One example of this is the development of virtual reality games for the Playstation 2 and 3, Xbox, Mac and PC.

The first interactive map

The 1970’s saw the development of the first interactive map of Aspen, Colorado by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This was an innovative form of multimedia which enabled people to walk through the town of Aspen.

Virtual reality and HCI

Step forward to the 1980’s where virtual reality was used on projects for NASA as well as research into new forms of human-computer interaction (HCI). This was carried out by Dr Michael McGreevy – an authority in this field and several other spheres who developed some innovative virtual reality systems.

Virtual reality and the present day

Researchers, technologists and anyone else working in the field of virtual reality is all too aware of the dangers of hype and as a result, have tended to downplay its capabilities. They often avoid the term ‘virtual reality’ in preference to ‘virtual environment’ which has a less negative connotation.


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