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The History of VIrtual Reality


Jaron Lanier, founder of VPL Research, coined the term “virtual reality.” Virtual reality allows the user to become completely immersed in a simulated, three-dimensional world that is entirely computer-generated.

Virtual Reality’s Beginning

The first traces of virtual reality appeared many decades ago. For example, in 1944, the U.S. Navy designed a flight simulator. They used a graphical display created by computer on a cathode ray tube. In 1977, Thomas Defanti, Richard Sayre, and Dan Sandin created the first data glove. Data gloves and other devices such as hand-held wands and joysticks help the user move through a virtual environment, as well as allow him or her to work with virtual objects. In 1982, Tron, a Disney science-fiction film,became one of the first movies to make extensive use of computer graphics.


Also around this time, Myron Krueger and others worked on a group of projects they called Responsive Environments. They used a floor containing sensors that located the viewer and detected his or her actions. This information was then employed to direct a projected display. The viewer’s silhouette appeared on a screen; a parallel virtual space was created. Later, computer vision systems were utilized. In 1984, William Gibson’s book Neuromancer introduced “cyberspace.” 1987’s Star Trek- The Next Generation contained a Holodeck, a simulated reality facility, and the concept of immersive VR spread.

In 1989, VPL Research made the “EyePhone” system, a head-mounted display, available for commercial use. A head-mounted display allows its wearer to experience virtual reality. It contains two small display screens and an optimal system, which directs images from the screens to the wearer’s eyes. A motion tracker monitors the orientation and position of the head, and the image projected to the user changes to represent the current view. Because head-mounted displays could be uncomfortable, BOOM and CAVE were created.


The BOOM (Binocular Omni-Orientation Monitor) includes a box with two holes in it. Individuals gaze into the box and view a virtual world. They could use their arm to move the box to different positions. Sensors located in the links between the user’s arm and the box track head motion. In recent years, the BOOM device has largely been replaced by projection-based systems such as the CAVE.

The CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) projects stereo images onto the floor and walls of a cube-shaped room. People wearing light stereo glasses can walk around the room, and the images projected will change based on the viewer’s position.

The CAVE serves many purposes. It can be used for entertainment, as well as flight simulation. It also allows scientists and engineers to view and maneuver complicated data. It can be utilized in medicine, architecture, psychology, environmental science, and design.

Brown University’s Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Department is also using virtual reality. Scientists are attempting to treat phobias by simulating the anxiety-provoking behavior. An example would be flight simulation for those with a fear of flying. This is known as virtual reality therapy.

Additionally, virtual reality continues to play an important role in research today.


Beier, K. P. “Virtual Reality: A Short Introduction.” University of Michigan; Virtual Reality Laboratory 2008 Nov. 18.

Bilawchuk, Mark. Virtual Reality 26 March 2004. University of Calgary.

Donath, Judith. “Technological Interventions in Everyday Interaction.” Act/React 2008.

Makulowich, John. “The Future of Virtual Reality.” USA Today on the web. 2000

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