Who invented virtual reality


Virtual Reality (VR) only got big in the last couple of years due to the rapid technological development. The idea of ​​visually immersing yourself in other, three-dimensional worlds is not new, however. There were first forerunners as early as the 19th century. Join us on a journey into the early days of VR!


One of the most important aspects of virtual reality is the impression of space. This illusion can already be achieved with simple two-dimensional images that provide the left and right eye with a slightly different perspective. This creates a kind of 3D effect.1838 the English physicist Charles Wheatstone published a device called a stereoscope, which was used to view such images. Back then they were still drawings. Photography was just beginning at the time, but it was already there1849 the Scot David Brewster presented a two-lens camera that could take stereoscopic images. In one form or another, stereoscopy is still used today.

Pygmalion’s Spectacles

Writers often anticipate technological developments long before they are actually invented. There is also such an example for virtual reality. In his short story "Pygmalion’s Spectacles" from the year1935 the American author Stanley G. Weinbaum writes glasses that enable the following experience: “... a film that gives you images and sounds [...], taste, smell and tactile sensations. [...]. You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters) and they answer, instead of on a screen, the story takes place all around you and you are right in the middle of it. "


Sensorama wasn't VR glasses, but a whole VR machine.

Ever since television became increasingly popular in the 1950s, pessimists have repeatedly predicted the demise of classic film theater. VR pioneer Morton Heilig believed he could usher in a new era of cinema with his invention, Sensorama.1962 he had a machine patented that conveyed comprehensive sensory impressions to the viewer. With Sensorama you could not only watch a 3D film about a motorcycle ride, at the same time the seat jerked, an artificial wind blew and it smelled of the street. For reasons of cost, however, the invention never caught on.

The sword of Damocles

If modern VR glasses are too bulky for you, you would not have enjoyed the very first headset for what we know today as virtual and augmented reality. In fact, this part was so heavy that it had to hang from the ceiling in order not to strain the wearer too much. Hence the name "The Sword of Damocles" for the invention from the year1968. In the Greek world of legends, the sword of Damocles serves as a metaphor for a latent danger, and the creators around the American computer pioneer Ivan Sutherland have definitely seen this in the new technology.

Aspen Movie Map

Late 1978, early 1979 drove cars with strange cameras on their roofs through Aspen, Colorado. Your mission: Record all streets for an interactive film about the city. This action is of course reminiscent of Google Street View, but even then went a step further. Viewers could explore Aspen in moving images and choose the route they like. There was also additional information in image, sound and text about selected buildings and places. The movie map was thus an early example of hypermediality, i.e. the linking of several media genres. An animated 3D model of the city also provided the virtual touch.

The Judas Mandala

The examples listed so far and a few other examples all contain more or less elements of virtual reality, but were not so named at their time. No wonder, after all, the term didn't even exist back then. Most sources name the Australian science fiction writer Damien Broderick as the inventor of this combination of words. In his1982 In the time travel novel “The Judas Mandala”, he uses the formulations “virtual reality” and “virtual matrix”. This will certainly not only have inspired Hollywood, at least the first of the two terms was also used in the Oxford English Dictionary1987 his place.

Top picture: "The Sword of Damocles"