As with all modern, life-changing innovations, recognizing where they got started and how they have grown is the best way to predict where they’re likely to go in the future. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to virtual or augmented reality. This technology has made leaps and bounds in the last decade, however, advancements have been present since before the Civil War.
Charles Wheatstone is arguably the founder of virtual reality. In 1839, the English inventor and scientist invented the Stereoscope, which could transport the viewer to a completely different world. He used his understanding of the human eye and brain and used optical illusion science to show the user a pair of separate images (one for each eye), creating a larger, distant but distinctly 3D image. This technology is still used in viewing aerial photographs and X-rays today.
In 1957, a cinematographer called Morton Heilig achieved the first example of augmented reality. This was the Sensorama, which wasn’t computer-controlled but was the first example of adding visuals, vibration, smell, and sound to a viewer. In 1975, American computer artist Myron Krueger created Videoplace, which was the first ‘virtual reality’ interface, allowing users to interact with and manipulate virtual objects in real-time.
Of course, none of these examples were actually called augmented reality or virtual reality, as the term virtual reality wasn’t coined until 1989 by Jaron Lainer, and augmented reality was coined by Thomas P Caudell in 1990.
What’s the Difference Between Virtual and Augmented Reality?
For many people, the terms ‘augmented reality’ and ‘virtual reality’ are used interchangeably. But they are slightly different. Virtual reality is actually a computer-generated simulation with the goal of making the device user feel like they’re in a different world. Today, this is mostly used in 3D movies and video games.
Augmented reality is when we mash together the real world and virtual elements. If you ever played Pokemon Go, you were using augmented reality.
How Does Virtual and Augmented Reality Work?
Augmented Reality can be used on various devices- head-mounted displays, mobile phones, handheld devices, glasses, and screens. It involves some of these technologies:
S.L.A.M: This stands for Simultaneous localization and mapping
Depth or Positional Tracking: Sensor data calculates the distance to objects
Cameras and sensors: User data and sending for processing
Processing: These devices act like small computers (similar to smartphones)
Projection: AR headsets have small projectors which take sensor data, projecting digital content to the viewer
Reflection: Some devices use mirrors to help the human eye view virtual images
Virtual reality takes the user to a whole new world, with screens eliminating any interaction with the real world. For virtual reality to work well, it must combine 3D objects that seem life-sized to the user, and the ability to track that user’s actions- particularly eye and head movements. This should adjust the images to reflect each change in perspective.
Augmented reality and virtual reality have both always been ahead of their time in popular culture. For example, Jem’Hadar used augmented reality in the Star Trek Universe with a map that displayed what was happening outside of their ship.
In 2001, a monster is using virtual reality glasses to have ‘scare training’ in one of the scenes. The unsettling show Black Mirror ha several episodes featuring both virtual and augmented reality, while the movie Her from 2013 portrays artificial intelligence, along with a cute AR game. The Big Bang Theory introduced virtual reality glasses to viewers back in 2013 when Sheldon immersed himself in a VR world.
One thing is for sure: These technologies represent huge opportunities for the human race- not just in gaming, but in a variety of fields and applications.