The below is a review of past, present and future of VR.
Virtual Reality History
In Silicon Valley, in 1985, a ragtag band of programmers began exploring the concept of virtual reality from a tiny cottage in Palo Alto. Spearheaded by the 24-year-old Jaron Lanier, VPL Research helped make VR a buzzword in the mid-to-late 80s and earned substantial investment, before filing for bankruptcy at the decade’s end. Despite mass media interest from publications like Scientific American and Wired, the technology wasn’t there—or it was too expensive—and the audience was a tad too niche. Save for some fruits of its early research, purchased in sum by Sun Microsystems, VPL’s sole legacy has been its popularization of the term “virtual reality.”
Virtual Reality Evolvement
Thirty years have passed since then, and the landscape has finally shifted in virtual reality’s favor. Last month, Microsoft revealed Project HoloLens, a headset that creates high-definition holograms, which has been secretly under development since around 2010, according to Wired. Its thick, black lenses use an advanced depth camera, sensors, and several processing units to process thousands of bouncing light particles, in order to project holographic models on the kitchen counter, or take the wearer on a hyperrealistic trip to Mars. Google has invested $542 million in the augmented-reality startup Magic Leap, while Sony and Samsung are both developing virtual-reality headsets, according to The Verge. Much was made of Facebook's $2 billion purchase of VR Kickstarter darling Oculus Rift last March, as Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that the company was playing the long game: “One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.”
This is more difficult than it sounds, since our senses and brains are evolved to provide us with a finely synchronised and mediated experience. If anything is even a little off we can usually tell. This is where you’ll hear terms such as immersiveness and realism enter the conversation. These issues that divide convincing or enjoyable virtual reality experiences from jarring or unpleasant ones are partly technical and partly conceptual. Virtual reality technology needs to take our physiology into account. For example, the human visual field does not look like a video frame. We have (more or less) 180 degrees of vision and although you are not always consciously aware of your peripheral vision, if it were gone you’d notice. Similarly when what your eyes and the vestibular system in your ears tell you are in conflict it can cause motion sickness. Which is what happens to some people on boats or when they read while in a car.
Virtual Reality Future
Virtual reality is the creation of a virtual environment presented to our senses in such a way that we experience it as if we were really there. It uses a host of technologies to achieve this goal and is a technically complex feat that has to account for our perception and cognition. It has both entertainment and serious uses. The technology is becoming cheaper and more widespread. We can expect to see many more innovative uses for the technology in the future and perhaps a fundamental way in which we communicate and work thanks to the possibilities of virtual reality.