The Evolution of Virtual Reality

Precursor: Early technology that blurred the lines between the physical and virtual worlds.

Augmented Reality: Technology that adds virtual elements to the user’s real-world environment.

Virtual Reality: Technology that allows users to immerse themselves in a fabricated reality.

1930’s: The Link Trainer


The Link Trainer was a commercial flight simulator patented 1931 that was entirely electromechanical. The U.S. military bought six of these devices for $3,500 which would be around $50,000 today.

1940’s: Sawyer’s View-Master


Sawyer’s View-Master debuted at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair and was originally intended as an educational device for adults, but became a children’s toy. It is estimated that overall sales have topped 100 million viewers and 1.5 billion reels

The binocular-style image reel viewer offers stereoscopic, 3D pictures that are mounted in a case of Bakelite, the first entirely man-made plastic.

1950’s: The Sensorama

Augmented Reality

The Sensorama was designed mid-50s and patented 1962. The arcade-style theater cabinet provided fully immersed film experience by stimulating all five senses.

The device included stereo speakers, a stereoscopic 3D display, fans, smell generators and a vibrating chair.

1960’s: The Telesphere Mask

Virtual Reality

The Telesphere Mask was patented in 1960 and was the first head-mounted display. The device featured stereoscopic 3D and wide vision with stereo sound, but lacked motion tracking.

1970’s: Aspen Movie Map

Augmented Reality

The Aspen Movie Map provides an interactive virtual tour of Aspen, Colorado. The device acted as a precursor to Google Street View.

The tour was created with roof-mounted cameras on cars and played back on a touch-screen display, with navigation buttons that allowed users to move around.

1980’s: VPL Eyephone

Augmented Reality

The VPL Eyephone was an immersive headset and glove released in 1989.The device sold at at a price point of $9,400 and used hand to head tracking to immerse users in a computer simulation.

1990’s: Nintendo Virtual Boy

Virtual Reality

The Nintendo Virtual Boy was a portable 3D video game console and the first home virtual reality device for gaming. The device sold around 770,000 units and utilized a dual screen design to create the illusion of 3D using 2D images.

2000’s: Virtuality Gaming Machines

Virtual Reality

Virtuality Gaming Machines were enclosed gaming stations that consisted of a headset and hand controllers plus a gaming pod. The first sale was for two machines to British Telecom for $78,000 each

2010: Microsoft Kinect

Augmented Reality

The Microsoft Kinect is a motion-sensing gaming system that was launched in 2010. The device creates a digitized version of the user that interacts with the virtual world on screen.

2011: iPhone Virtual Reality Viewer

Virtual Reality

The iPhone Virtual Reality Viewer is a pair of 3D iPhone goggles that provides users with an immersive, three-dimensional viewing experience. The goggles have 360-degree movement and use existing mobile devices.

2012: Oculus Rift

Augmented Reality

The Oculus Rift is a digital entertainment headset. Its kickstarter campaign raised $1 million in three days and the device was purchased by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion

2013: Tactical Haptics VR Motion Controller

Virtual Reality

The Tactical Haptics VR Motion Controller is a Responsive gaming joystick. The grip of the controller simulates pushing, pulling and twisting forces. The Kickstarter for the device launched in 2013, but did not reach its $175,000 goal.

2014: Google Cardboard

Virtual Reality

Google Cardboard is a foldable cardboard viewer with a price point of $15. 5 million viewers were sold in the first 19 months it was available. The device fits an Android phone.

2015: Samsung Gear VR

Virtual Reality

The Samsung Gear VR is worn around the user’s head with eyes enclosed. The device requires a Samsung phone to operate and uses an accelerometer and gyroscope for an immersive experience. It is sold at a price point of $99.

2016: Microsoft Hololens

Augmented Reality

The Microsoft Hololens is a holographic headset with a price point of $3,000 for the developer edition. It is a standalone device with no phone involved.