Virtual reality may seem like the hot new tech trend of the moment, but the idea of virtual reality has actually been around since the 1950s and like most crazy new ideas involving technology, it came from science fiction.
In the early 1950s Stanley G. Weinbaum wrote a book called "Pygmalion's Spectacles" which describes a “goggle-based virtual reality system with holographic recording of fictional experiences including smell and touch.”
Sound familiar? That’s because a sci-fi writer in the '50s first thought up virtual reality before Oculus Rift’s founder was a twinkle in his fathers eye.
It was not until the '90s that we started to see anything even remotely like the virtual reality headset our friend Stanley described in the '50s, when Sega and then Virtuality both announced the launch of VR systems.
For different reasons, nobody has ever been commercially successful in the consumer market with virtual reality in the past and there have been LOTS of attempts to make virtual reality an actual reality.
Now recently virtual reality has become sexy again and right at the center of the VR resurgence is a company called Oculus Rift with a different approach.
Oculus has found a way to make a headset that does more than just hang a big screen in front of your face.
By combining stereoscopic 3-D, 360-degree visuals, and a wide field of view (along with a supersize dose of engineering and software magic) Oculus Rift manages to actually hack your visual cortex and this is apparently why it succeeds where so many other VR projects and attempts have failed.
According to Wired Magazine, “The Rift fuses readings from a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer to evaluate head motion. Even better, it takes 1,000 readings a second, allowing it to predict motion and pre-render images, shaving away precious milliseconds of latency.
“Even the best LCD can take 15 milliseconds for all its pixels to change color. The Rift uses AMOLED screens, which can switch color in less than a millisecond. Oculus also figured out how to deactivate those pixels rapidly so the image doesn’t smear or shake when you whip your head around.
“The Rift’s small external camera monitors 40 infrared LEDs on the headset, tracking motion and letting you crouch, lean, or approach an in-game object.”
If all of this talk of rapidly moving pixels millimeters from your eyeballs is enough to make you feel a little nauseous and disorientated, then do not worry, because Oculus Rift has solved this ages-old VR problem.
According to Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times Magazine, this is actually the Rift’s biggest achievement: “Immersive, transporting, revolutionary, but most of all, non-nauseating.”
That’s right, Oculus Rift may succeed where others have failed because their headset does not make you want to vomit and if you remember using VR in the early '90s, this is actually a big deal.
Of course this time round, I expect to see MANY more different applications for virtual reality than just games and after seeing demonstrations of Oculus Rift for real, I am not alone in thinking of different uses for VR.
When Facebook bought Oculus in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said, “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home. That’s the dream.”
It's not just Oculus and Facebook trying to make VR a reality. We also have the HoloLens from Microsoft, which according to them is a “stand-alone augmented reality headset, capable of projecting computer generated objects into your real-world environment.”
You also have newcomers gaming heavyweights Steam partnering with HTC to produce their own virtual reality goggles, so the future of VR may actually be REALLY just right around the corner this time.
But this time round, it will not just be for games. The educational, entertainment and medical industries, to name a few, will all make heavy use of a successful VR implementation...if it actually doesn’t make you vomit.