Did you know the origins of extended reality (XR) – the spectrum of immersive technologies that includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) – stretch all the way back to the 1800s? In this article, I take a whistle-stop tour through the key milestones in the evolution of XR.
In 1838, scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone outlined the concept of “stereopsis” or “binocular vision” – where the brain combines two images (one from each eye) to make a single 3D image. This led to the development of the first stereoscopes, devices that took a pair of images and turned them into a 3D image with the illusion of depth. Stereoscopic displays are used in today’s VR systems to bring a sense of depth to digital images – thereby enhancing the feeling of immersion.
The early 1900s
Now we jump forward a bit to 1935 when American science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum published Pygmalion’s Spectacles, in which the main character explores a fictional world using a pair of goggles. This was the first prediction of VR as we know it today.
The 1950s to the 1970s
Across the 50s, 60s, and 70s, we began to see early examples of VR and AR technology in action:
From the 1980s to 2000
In the 1980s, new technology emerged to enhance the VR experience. The first company to sell VR goggles and gloves, VPL Research Inc, was founded in 1985 – and it was one of VPL’s founders, Jaron Lanier, who coined the term “virtual reality” in 1987. (The term “augmented reality” was coined in 1990 by Boeing researcher Tom Caudell.) Then along came VR arcade machines in the early 1990s, like the SEGA VR-1 motion simulator. And by the mid-90s, affordable VR headsets were becoming available for home use.
But what about AR? In 1998, Sportsvision broadcast the first live NFL game with the yellow yard marker (a yellow line overlayed on top of the live camera feed). It was a game-changer, and the idea of overlaying graphics over the real-world view quickly spread to other sports broadcasting.
And finally, from 2010 to 2020
I’ll skip the early 2000s because it was a quiet time for XR technology. (Although the introduction of Google Street View in 2007 arguably ties in with VR, since it allows users to visit a different place.) But from 2010 onwards, XR technologies really began to gain momentum. Some of the key highlights from this decade include:
By 2020, the use of VR, AR, and MR had quickly extended to a wide range of industries. Today, I’m seeing the adoption of XR technologies across sectors as diverse as manufacturing, education, healthcare, construction, and even law enforcement.
This widening of XR applications is critical to the evolution of XR, because it proves that XR is no longer just for gaming and entertainment. I can't wait to see how these technologies evolve in the future and become even more mainstream. Watch this space…
Where to go from here
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Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the field of business and technology. He is the author of 18 best-selling books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the worlds best-known organisations. He has 2 million social media followers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.