This post was contributed by a community member.
The first place Virtual Reality took me was on a Star Tour to the Endor moons. The flight did not go as expected though and our rookie pilot ended up overshooting our destination, which turned into a whole rigamarole. But that experience with VR was a success nonetheless and it sparked my fascination with the ability to stretch the limits of reality.
Oh the places you can now go with virtual reality. Consumers now have access to quality home set-up’s like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive Pro, that far surpass the Virtual Boy technology that wowed countless kids in the 90’s. With every advance in VR tech that blows preceding tech out of the water it becomes clear that we have only scratched the surface of what VR can do.
Only time will tell the highest and best uses for VR, but as of 2018, the technology is gaining traction with traditional and progressive end-users. VR is no longer limited to science fiction and theme park attractions but is proving to be useful in several business applications. Energy, medical, aerospace and defense are only some of the industries that are finding innovative solutions with VR. Doing a virtual test run of a complex mechanical procedure or an intricate surgery can be a great value to professionals.
Here is a rundown of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality technologies including an abridged history of their development and uses.
What is Virtual Reality?
A quick search of the metaverse, I mean internet, will reveal a slew of definitions for Virtual Reality. Many define the whole term as a sum of its parts. Virtual meaning very close or practically similar. Reality being what we as humans perceive. But being very close to what we perceive does not get us very far in defining the technology side of VR.
Good old Webster’s dictionary defines virtual reality as, “the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.” A bit clunky, don’t you think?
The definition of VR that feels just right comes from Wikipedia which defines VR as an, “interactive computer-generated experience taking place within a simulated environment, that incorporates mainly auditory and visual, but also other types of sensory feedback.” The term can be admittingly slippery and many devices fall under the VR umbrella.
VR vs AR
Wearable screen technology is quickly splitting itself into three parts: virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. As discussed above VR is treated as an umbrella term for all immersive experiences. AR or Augmented reality on the other hand is the overlaying of content over the real world. Think of the heads-up display on fancy cars and jet planes, or the pesky Pokémon that found its way onto your kitchen table. Content and reality do not interact with each other in AR.
Mixed reality, like AR is the overlapping of synthetic content onto reality but unlike AR, is anchored to and interacts with the real world. The key characteristic of MR is that the synthetic content and the real-world content can react to each other in real time. This technology has not quite developed into many practical uses but the future is bright for MR.
History of VR
The term Virtual Reality was coined in 1987 by Jaron Lanier, but the history of VR can be traced back to the mid-1900’s. In the 1930’s a science fiction author by the name of Stanley Weinbaum predicted the technology in his novel, Pygmalion’s Spectacles. The novel describes a set of spectacles that allow the wearer to experience a fictional universe through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. This would hardly be the last depiction of VR in literature let alone cinema.
The military has been using VR since the early 30’s when Edward Link invented the first flight simulator known as the “link trainer”. The link trainer helped over 500,000 pilots gearing up for WWII get their wings without having to leave the ground. New pilots could control motors that simulated pitch, roll, turbulence, and disturbances.
The next milestone in the history of VR took place in the mid 1950’s when Morton Heilig created the Sensorama which was an arcade-style viewing cabinet (sounds cozy) that would stimulate a viewer’s senses with a 3D display, stereo speakers, fans, smell generators and a vibrating chair. Folks really seemed to enjoy the vibrating chair business. Heilig, being from the movie business, also created six short films to accompany the sensorama including such riveting titles as Motorcycle, Belly Dancer, Dune Buggy, helicopter, and I’m a coca cola bottle!
In 1968, Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull, created what is widely considered the first head-mounted display and named it, the Sword of Damocles. User’s would strap into the heavy HMD which was connected to a computer that generated primitive rooms and objects. The device gave viewers a window into a virtual world.
Not only did Jaron Lanier coin the term VR, he also was one of the first to develop VR devices for the public. VPL Research, Lanier’s Laboratory, created such devices as the Audio Sphere, Data Glove and the Eyephone. VPL licensed the data glove technology to Mattel which marketed the product as the Power Glove and sold units for $75 dollars.
In 1987, Star Tours debuted at Disneyland. The attraction was motion-simulator based on the Star Wars films that took ride-goers through George Lucas’s fictional universe. In 1986 Disney partnered with George Lucas to develop a 3-D musical, Captain EO. Utilizing this partnership Disney approached Lucas to create Star Tours. With Lucas’s approval, Disney began creating the attraction by purchasing 4 x-y-z axis flight simulators from the government at half a million dollars a pop. The final cost of the project was $32 million dollars which was approximately double what the cost it took to construct the whole Disneyland park in 1955.
VR in Gaming
During the 1990’s, the gaming industry took the first crack at developing VR for home use. One of the first companies to try releasing a VR gaming headset was Sega, which created the Sega VR as an accessory for the Sega Genesis. The project got surprisingly far as Sega game developers even created 4 games for Sega VR. Despite the project’s momentum, Sega VR was never released. Sega Executives framed the failure to launch by saying the Sega VR virtual effect was too realistic, and consumers would end up in peril while immersed.
Demands in the gaming community for a home VR device were met in 1995 when Nintendo released the Virtual Boy. The Virtual Boy was a 32-bit table-top video game system that displayed stereoscopic 3D graphics thanks to the parallax effect which created an illusion of depth. Nintendo released 22 games for the console including the debut of Mario Tennis and Bowling, ultimately setting the foundation for the Wii. The lifespan of the virtual boy was short lived and by 1996, Nintendo stopped distribution and game development. Critics explained its failure stemming from high price, monochrome display, unimpressive 3D effects, lack of true portability, health concerns, and low-quality games.
No history of VR would be complete without a mention of the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Rift successfully changed the name of the game for household VR. Boasting 1080×1200 resolution in each eye, a 90 Hz refresh rate, and 110° field of view, positional tracking, and integrated headphones, it is no wonder why the massive amounts of VR enthusiast flocked towards the device.
While the Oculus changed the way the masses use VR, the history of the company also created waves in the industry. Founded by VR child prodigy, in his parent’s garage in Long Beach, CA, Palmer Luckey started OculusVR in 2012 with the vision of creating the world’s best VR headset designed specifically for gaming. Later in 2012, Luckey started a kickstarter campaign to fund development of the Rift. The campaign raised 2.5 million dollars and allowed OculusVR to focus on develop the Rift. 601 days after the start of the kickstarter campaign Luckey sold Oculus to Facebook for $2 billion dollars. That’s billions with a B.
The Oculus Rift proved to be a game changer in that it changed the way gamers play and interact with games. Making a high-end virtual reality experience to the average gamer. The Oculus enjoyed such success over previous HMU’s due to the availability of lighter display screen’s which allowed users to dive deep into VR without being encumbered by equipment. The second development that lead to the devices success was the availability of cheap motion sensors which improved the latency of interaction between the user and the device.
2018 Comic-Con Display of Virtual Might
One of the top billed attractions at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was the Jack Ryan Hyperreality Spy experience. The attraction which was based off Tom Clancy’s novels was combined effort between Amazon Studios and Mediamonk. The attraction combined physical challenges with VR to create a fully immersive experience unlike any other.
The attraction was housed at a 60,000 square foot facility that was set up with various obstacles that participants faced while wearing OptiTrack cameras and Oculus Rift headsets to make the experience as real as possible. Participants found themselves rappelling from a helicopter, crossing a 28ft high plank, infiltrating an enemy compound, taking out assailants, then locating intelligence, zipline from a building, then exfiltrate back to a safehouse while being chased by enemy cars.
“Hyperreality blurs the lines between VR technology and the real world; it truly brings fans something new and immerses them into the story of the series in ways that we could previously only dream about. Who wouldn’t want to become a hero for a day?” said Wesley ter Haar, COO, MediaMonks.
VR CON is a hub for all things virtual and was created to celebrate the cutting-edge areas of VR, AR, MR, Artificial Intelligence, and Wearable Computing. VR CON, which started in 2016, travels to cities around the world covering entertainment, gaming, education, travel, design and more. Radiant Images Co-Founder Michael Mansouri, a leading voice in VR chimed in before the inaugural VR Con saying, “With estimates of VR and AR generating $182 billion by 2025, we are now at the base of a gathering storm, and our industry needed its own public ‘CON’ — we are thrilled to be exhibiting at the first one.” Mansouri’s wishes were met and the public can now experience the earth-shattering effect these technologies will have on our future.
VR for Military Applications
Aside from the entertainment industry, VR’s development is tied closely with military applications. The military took notice back in the 80’s and 90’s when engineers began developing HMD’s in an effort to drastically cut the cost of training vehicle pilots. Compared to the cost of real life simulations, realistic VR can similarly train personnel at a fraction of the cost.
The future of VR in military training as simulators are a big part of the Future Combat System (FCS) which is the foundation of the armed forces’ future. The FCS consists of a networked battle command system and advanced vehicles and weapons platforms. Pandemic Studios has created a complex training simulation as part of the FCS which allows soldiers to practice small team tactics in a virtual urban environment. The training simulations uses an Xbox console to run the game and take on the role of a team leader trying to achieve objectives in various scenarios. For civilians looking to sharpen their combat skills, Pandemic Studios now offers a slightly modified version of the software as a commercial game, called “Full Spectrum Warrior.” Other VR simulations include “America’s Army” and “Guard Force.”
VR for Business Applications
VR for entertainment is great but when the rubber hit’s the road, VR needs to make dollar’s as well as sense. Enter VR for Business purposes. Growth of VR in business is forecast to outpace entertainment uses of the technology in coming years. Research done by Tratica suggest that VR for business spending will reach $9.2 billion dollars by 2021.
Training is still a primary use of VR in business settings as doctor’s and engineers alike can test scenario’s before investing significant resources into the venture. If something goes wrong in the simulation, the professional can simply reset the program rather than lose a patient’s life or destroy a multi-million-dollar piece of equipment.
Beyond training, consumers are now enjoying the privilege of VR. Test driving a new car or walking through a home that is thousands of miles away before making a purchase can significantly reduce any buyer’s remorse before the purchase is made.
In manufacturing and production industries, VR is allowing every detail of a prototype or mechanism to be simulated and tested before investing in a full-scale prototype. Companies like Boeing and Airbus are increasingly using simulated virtual spaces to design and test new airplane models and features.
One such Southern California company is coming to the aid of these industries by bringing immersive VR software applications to a spectrum businesses and industries. Founded in 2014 by Dave Ross, Tsunami XR is creating visually compelling and highly interactive applications which combine with analytic data to explain and service complex products, unlock operational efficiencies, increase uptime of industrial equipment, and improve workforce training, productivity and safety. Many companies have already used Tsunami’s software solutions to operate across leading hardware devices and to encompass enterprise-class levels of security, scalability, and management. The company’s team of VR pioneers have transformed new companies and technologies in the areas of digital media, security, SaaS, security, mobility, and communications.
But becoming a thriving company in a technologically ground-breaking field cannot be done without the know how and grit of a fearless leader. Enter CEO of Tsunami XR, Alex Hern. It can be difficult to gain experience in an industry that is constantly evolving, but Hern has accumulated an array of experiences that spell out success for Tsunami XR.
For more than 25 years, Hern has been a prominent entrepreneur focusing on early stage spin-off and incubation of technology companies. He Co-Founded and served on the Board of Inktomi (INKT) which was later sold to Yahoo. He was CoFounder of Yesmail (YESM) and served on its Board from inception through IPO which was then sold to (CMGI) for $650 million ten months later. He was the Co-Founder, CEO, and Chairman of Military Commercial Technologies (Milcom). And Mr. Hern Co-Founded and served on the board of Arcsight, after the IPO, which was then sold for $1.5 B to Hewlett Packard with CloudShield.
The Future of VR
The past has revealed that as the cost of VR comes down, the technology gets closer to becoming mainstream. Current headset manufacturers like HTC and Facebook know that the key to getting their devices into the hands of the masses requires a reduction in cost. But as the technology needed to produce HMD’s goes down, manufacturer’s will be able to offer their wares at a fraction of the cost. While VR is now a burgeoning industry it is sure to expand as cost go down, applications expand, and more VR content is created.
Connect with Alex Hern and Tsunami XR on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Get the San Francisco newsletter
Thanks for your feedback.