Evolution of the Virtual Reality experience


In 1999 a movie called “The Matrix” introduced a character named Neo who was told that reality as he understands it is actually a complex computer simulation called the Matrix or virtual reality. At the time that this movie was released, technology was about to catch up with the evolution of the concept of virtual reality (VR)  and bring to the mainstream. Virtual reality can be defined as a computer generated

simulation of a three dimensional image or environment in which a user can interact in seemingly real or physical way, with  a person using special electronic equipment. VR is experienced by a user through the senses of sight, touch and sound. Virtual reality has also been referred to, artificial reality or computer generated reality.

Virtual reality is a concept that has been around in theory for decades. (VR) first appeared in literature in the early 1930’s in a collection of essays ”Le Theatre et son double” by author Antonin Artaud. In the essay he coined the phrase “la realite virtuelle” In 1965 Ivan Sutherland described the “Ultimate Display” concept that could simulate reality. He wrote a paper that described a concept where a virtual world is created through the use of an HMD(head mounted device), computer software to create the virtual world and the ability of users to interact with objects realistically in the environment. He stated

”The ultimate display would, of course, be a room with which the computer can control the existence of matter” His paper became what would become the blueprint for the virtual reality experience today.

Morton Hellig, a cinematographer, was one of the first to take VR  from a concept to an actual prototype in 1965. He wanted to create what he called “experience theater” His prototype,called the Sensorama Simulator played 3D film,along with stereo sound, aromas and wind to create an impressive sensory environment. This invention did not have commercial success but it is one if the earliest  functional efforts in virtual reality. For many years, VR technology was out of the public eye. However, many science fiction writers such as Stanley Weinbaum who wrote “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” and screen writers for movies such as “Lawnmower Man” and “Tron” introduced story lines involving the world of virtual reality.

In fact, from the 1970’s to the 80’s,VR technology and its applications were used to develop vehicle simulations (flight, space). The military, commercial airlines, NASA,CIA and other organizations were using VR technology to train personnel in a simulated environment to prepare for real life situations in the field. In the 1990’s the improving graphics in video games and the abilities of PC’s to accommodate virtual reality experience, foster the growth of research and development. In the 80’s John Walden was  the first to develop real time interactive reality systems for arcade gaming with his company The Virtuality Group.

In the 21st century there have been rapid development of virtual reality. Small and powerful mobile technologies have exploded onto the market. The video gaming industry has continued to drive the development of consumer virtual realty. In 2014 Oculus, developer of VR technology  products

(Oculus ) was purchased by social media giant Facebook for 2 billion dollars. Most recently, companies like Google have released virtual products, Google cardboard ($20). Google cardboard is a DIY headset that uses a smart phone to drive it. Consumers can download apps to view videos in VR format. In addition, Samsung Gear ($60) a sturdier VR headset that uses a Galaxy S& or S7 edge to send the user into a VR experience when viewed sideways. Just released in 2016, the HTC Vive ($1110) is a virtual reality headset for room scale virtual reality. This new technology in VR allows the user to navigate naturally, allowing the them to walk around and use motion tracked hand held controllers, manipulate objects and experience an impressive environment. The new millennium has brought VR technology experience to the consumer. The creation and vision of science fictions writers of the past is our new reality!


Written By:  Sonja McKenzie
iUrban Teen Program Director – Portland