NOV 15, 2016
With Google, Facebook and Samsung all making forays into VR and AR technology, virtual reality is on the brink of breaking into mainstream culture. But long before it was available to the masses, VR was just another experimental technology only few had access to – and it goes all the way back to the 1990s.
An old episode from long discontinued Japanese tech show Today’s Japan gives us a marvelous glimpse into what VR technology looked like during its early beginnings – and it’s truly spectacular.
Produced in 1990 by local broadcaster NHK, the segment dives into what was then the latest technological development in the field of “computer graphics” – namely, a system for “sensing artificial reality” that allowed people to simulate experiences that would be otherwise difficult to explain.
In fact, the headset shown in the 1990’s footage was designed by American VR pioneer Jaron Lanier and his now defunct company VPL Research. Ironically, Lanier decided to call his invention the EyePhone.
While the quirky headset looks rather compact for the 90’s, it weighed approximately 2.5 kilos (or 5.5 pounds) and costed a staggering $9,400.
For Lanier, the EyePhone was an escape from the physical world and a portal to an imaginary world: “The idea is that by wearing computereque clothing right over your sense organs, you transport your sensory system into a reality that can be of any description.”
To navigate through this “artificial” world, the EyePhone came with an additional tool which VPL Research called the DataGlove. The high-tech glove allowed users to feel and experience objects in virtual reality as if they were real.
Here’s a video of Lanier explaining the capabilities of the EyePhone as well as the motivation behind building the headset.