2.4 Virtual Reality: a brief history

There is no generally agreed definition of the term 'virtual reality'. Taken to mean an interactive, self-directed, multisensory, computer-generated experience which gives the illusion of participating in a synthetic three-dimensional environment (Sanders 1997), virtual reality has been with us since the early 1960s. Ivan Sutherland first proposed the idea of stereographic head-mounted displays so that users could look around a computer-generated room simply by turning their heads. In the early 1970s, Myron Krueger coined the term 'artificial reality' and began developing computer-controlled responsive environments (Krueger 1993). In the 1980s, the drop in the cost of computers and the development in technology saw virtual reality become more of a possibility than a theoretical computer application. Jaron Lainier, of VPL Research Inc., is credited with coining the expression 'virtual reality', and created a glove for grasping computer-generated objects. NASA's research centres developed the modern head-mounted display (Gillings and Goodrick, 1996).

At this time there was much hype surrounding the concept of virtual reality. The entertainment industry latched onto the possibilities of the developing technology, but many people's experiences of virtual reality did not match up to their expectations. The displays were slow, movement was mechanical and unconvincing, the resolution of displays was poor and the field of vision very limited. The computer equipment required was expensive, and the displays were very platform dependent, inhibiting public access. As public interest diminished, it was obvious a critical re-evaluation of the way virtual reality environments were created and displayed was required if there were to be any further developments in the area.

To switch the focus from specialist use to mass market application, it was necessary to create a way of publishing virtual reality environments, or 'worlds', so that they could be experienced by all computer users, regardless of machine platform and practical experience. What was required, then, was a language to describe the physical attributes of the world which could be interpreted by different browsers to recreate the same environment on any machine, in much the same way that HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language), SGML (Standard Generalised Mark-up Language), and XML (Extensible Mark-up Language) can be used to transfer documents over the Internet. Indeed, the growth of the Internet spurred the development of Virtual Reality Mark-up Language, as advocates realised that the Internet would provide a powerful means of disseminating virtual reality.


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Mon Nov 29 1999