The Sensorama (pictured above) is considered to be the first true virtual reality device created in 1962 by filmmaker Mort Heilig. It was an arcade style cabinet, with a 3D display, vibrating seat, and even had a scent producer. Heilig had envisioned this new machine as the “Cinema of the future”. He was right but the hardware limitations of the time wouldn’t allow it.
A few years later Computer Scientist Ivan Sutherland conceptualized a virtual reality headset that uses a head-tracking, head mounted display. This concept is still used today in brand new virtual reality headsets.
NASA’s Ames Research Center and the U.S. Air Force used early VR technology to create flight simulators to train pilots with the help of Thomas Furness’s ingenuity and Ivan Sutherland’s equipment.
Consumer versions of the VR devices started to come out in the 1980’s. In 1984 VPL (Virtual Programming Languages) Research company released the EyePhone (pictured below) and the Data Glove (see video). The EyePhone served as the head mounted display used to immerse users into a computer simulation. The Data Glove was used as the interface. It wasn’t really popular with consumers as just the Data Glove alone cost $9000. Price was another hindering factor for the evolution of VR. The technology in the Data Glove was later used to create the Power Glove accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
In the 1990’s the concept of virtual reality was starting to boom. Movies like The Lawnmower Man and The Matrix stretched the imagination as what kind of experience virtual reality could bring. Movie theaters and arcade rooms featured virtual reality pods as well most prominently made by video game manufacturer Sega Genesis and Virtuality.
Sega rival Nintendo created their own home based virtual reality device in 1995 called the Virtual Boy (I got one for Christmas that year. I’m old.). Although it was released at an affordable price, it was a commercial failure due to negative publicity. It was discontinued from production the following year.
In the late 90’s the hype and interest of virtual reality tapered off with the birth of the internet.