Remembering the VR Heroes – History of Virtual Reality

History of Virtual Reality

The world is abuzz with Virtual Reality. It definitely appears to have enormous possibilities. While a lot has been discussed about the history of virtual reality, we decided to remember the heroes of virtual reality through this post. The history of virtual reality, irrespective of whenever it will be told, will never be complete without mentioning the contribution of these innovators and visionaries. It begins when the world first came to know how the brain processes the images. That was the time, when we discovered how the two eyes with overlapping vision gives the 3D aspect of the reality around us.

Relevant Read: What is Virtual Reality?

Sir Charles Wheatstone ( 1802 – 1875)

VR HistorySir Charles was an English scientist famous for, arguably, the first Stereoscope. Wheatstone first described the Stereopsis in the year 1838. For his research on binocular vision, he won the Royal Medal of the Royal Society. Interestingly, Stereoscope of Wheatstone, was the first instrument that provided the solid aspect of an object. It used two photographs of the same object taken from different angles or points. Though not a very user friendly version, it did provide the first ever design for a device to view objects in 3D. First ever Virtual Reality device, you may say.


Charles Wheatstone


Sir David Brewster – (1781 – 1868)

Sir David Brewster VR historySir Brewster was a Scottish innovator. He is known for his contribution in the field of optics. He is also called as the father of modern optics. Brewster was an arch rival of Sir Charles Wheatstone. He never attributed the Stereoscope invention to Wheatstone. Brewster, in fact, invented a much simpler design known as Brewster Stereoscope in 1849. Does it not look similar to Google VR Cardboard?


This 12 minute video explaining all aspects and history of stereoscope leading to today’s cardboard design is a must watch.


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Edwin Link – (1904 – 1981)

Edwin LinkEdwin is the american inventor of flight simulators, called Blue box or link trainer in 1929, the first Virtual Reality experience. It did not have the optics. However, the instrument responded to the controls and provided the accurate readings on the instruments.

The training video of the Link Trainer, below, shows how a pilot dies a horrible death as he lost focus of altitude during a landing simulation.


Edwin Mayer and William Gruber

All those who were born in 70s would remember the View Master. It was a great device to view some stunning 3D visuals. Edwin and William invented the rig for View Master that would provide a stereoscopic view to the user. They used the Kodachrome 16mm color film. View Master is one of the oldest VR viewer in the world. It is still being used as a cardboard after modification.


Morton Heilig

Such were the innovations of Morton that he got the title of the father of virtual reality. He developed Sensorama and patented it in 1962. The initial design of Sensorama was very bulky and looked like an arcade game. It was a truly immersive experience for the users, taking care of more than one sense. That was a complete 3D with wind on the face and smell of the city. He called it the cinema of the future. The invention appears to be way ahead of its time. It’s ironical that Morton struggled to get funding for a 3D film for Sensorama.

Morton Telesphere

Some of the other noticeable achievements of Morton Heiling in the field of Virtual reality are,

  • Telesphere Mask – (Patent in 1960). This is the first truly Head Mounted Display system that had stereoscopic or 3D vision as well as stereo sound. Read the complete patent document here and you will realize that Morton was way ahead of his time.
  • Experience Theater – This was Sensorama version for larger audience (patented in 1969). Experience Theater had a large semi spherical screen with 3D motion pictures. It boast off a stereo sound, temperature variations, wind and tilted seats to give a truly immersive experience to its audience.
  • Thrillerama Theater – With live actors, these movies had rear-projected D motion pictures while the actors could interact with the images on screen.
  • Big Pix 3D Viewer – More like a 360 degree panoramic picture viewer


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 Comeau & Bryan

Comeau and Bryan were the engineers working for Philco corporations. They designed world’s first “Motion tracking” HMD, called Headsight. It had a video screen in a stereoscopic fashion and was linked to a close circuit camera. However, Headsight lacked the computer generated imaging capabilities. It was a simple “transmitter to viewing” experience for the user, to be used, particularly, in the dangerous situations by the military.

VR Headsight

Ivan Sutherland – 1965 Ultimate display, 1968 Sword of Damocles

History of VR Ivan SutherlandIvan is known as the father of computer graphics. He is also credited for the world’s first Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) head mounted displays called “The Sword of Damocles”. Ivan along with his student Bob Sproull created this system at MIT’s Lincoln Library. The development of such a system started when Ivan moved to University of Utah in 1960s.

Interestingly, the main objective of this study was to integrate various components in to a single HMD. The first HMD was transparent and users could actually see the room in which they were present. Hence, Ivan is also credited with inventing a precursor to Augmented Reality. Ivan wrote a path breaking essay on Ultimate Display as his vision for computer displays. Ultimate Display was not restricted only to pictorial form but also for smell and touch. Read the full text here.

The video below shows a cube suspended in air and one of the rare videos of Ivan’s work.



Myron Krueger

Myron is an american computer artist. While doing his PhD at University of Wisconsin, he worked on numerous computer interactive work including GlowFlow in 1969. GlowFlow is a computer controlled environment that responds to the input by people within the environment. He is also one of the early stage or first generation researcher in the field of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).

Another such great innovation by Myron was Videoplace. Videoplace was an artificial reality lab set up by Myron at University of Connecticut. It was a result of improvements created out of various such systems starting from Glowflow, Metaplay to Psychic space.

The video below though shows limited ability to interact, considering it was done way back in 1985 is a remarkable achievement. It was one of the first such experiment that shows the capability to interact with the computer system.


Jaron Zepel Lanier

Jaron is an american writer, scientist, visual artist as well as a music composer. He is believed to have given the term Virtual reality in 1987. Jaron is the founder of the Visual Programming Lab (VPL). VPL has sold various types of VR Goggle and Gloves. VPL worked towards commercializing the Virtual Reality products. However, VPL had to file for bankruptcy in 1990. As of today, Sun Microsystems holds majority of the patents of VPL. Jaron is currently working as the Interdisciplinary Scientist at Microsoft since 2009.


Carolina Cruz-Neira

Currently working as the director at Emerging Analytics Center at University of Arkansasis. Carolina was the co-inventor and developer of CAVE Automatic virtual environment. As the name suggests, CAVE is a immersive Virtual Reality environment created in a room. The VR room has projectory walls, generally between 3 to 6. The user wearing the CAVE glasses would feel the objects flying around or in stereoscopic mode as they would in reality. CAVE is used across multiple fields to understand product behavior, factory layout simulations etc.


Maurice Benayoun

Maurice created the first VR artwork connecting in real time 2 continents: the “Tunnel under the Atlantic” between the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal. Maurice’ WorldSkin VR experience using CAVE principles won Golden Nica Award in 1998. The short film takes the users through the war torn land, moving around the objects in it while the user can take pictures as a normal tourist would do. Very innovative story telling.


Palmer Luckey

_TXT8966Palmer does not need an introduction to current generation of Virtual Reality practitioners. He is the founder of Oculus VR. Palmer built an extensive and exclusive collection of over 50 head mounted displays. We know he sold his company for $2 billion to Facebook. But what many don’t know that he used to repair iPhones and used the earnings of $36,000 for this project. At the age of 17, he created a forum, ModRetro to discuss modifications to old hardware of gaming consoles and PC.

Palmer created his first prototype at the age of 18 and experimented with various features such as high FoV of 270 degrees, 3D stereoscopy, wireless etc while also working on the size and weight of the device. The Oculus VR was created to facilitate kick-starter campaign to sell the DIY kit. The campaign was a blockbuster gaining almost 10 times the initial fund required. Oculus was later on acquired by Facebook at $2 billion dollars in 2014. Should I say more or simply a link to his Wikipedia page is enough? 🙂 Well here is the link.

Want to Learn Virtual Reality? There is no better way than learning it from the Inventor themselves. Check out these free resources.

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Until Next Time…


A digital enthusiast, who is amazed by the power of Virtual Reality. Here to share what I read.

6 thoughts on “Remembering the VR Heroes – History of Virtual Reality

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    • November 4, 2016 at 5:23 am

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  • Pingback: History of Virtual Reality | VM470/VM604 Advanced New Media Projects

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