The history of Virtual Reality

wavy dots


First flight simulator

The Link Trainer, a mock airplane fuselage mounted on a platform, simulates the sensation of flying well enough to train half a million military pilots on safety exercises during WWII.

Image: Wikipedia


First computer aided VR efforts

Morton Helig invents the Sesorama, one of the earliest VR systems.

Image: Endgadget


First head-mounted VR display

Ivan Sutherland invents the “Sword of Damocles” – a giant, head-mounted VR display.



The first “virtual tour”

A project out of MIT results in a simple virtual tour, called a “movie map”, which allows users to wander the streets of Aspen, Colorado, using computer controls.

Image: Computer History Museum


Digital imagery evolves

Out of NASA’s JPLG Lab, David Em uses early image-editing software to create the image “Aku.”

Image: David Em


Stereoscopic imaging

The Large Expanse, Extra Perspective (LEEP) optical system, created by Eric Howlett, uses a steroscopic image with a wide field of view to lend depth of field and realism to imagery – the basis of later VR imaging.



“Virtual Reality” coined

Computer Scientist Jaron Lanier founds VPL Research, which develops several early VR devices, and popularizes the term “Virtual Reality.”

Image: Jaron Lanier



William Gibson publishes his iconic novel, a science fiction story featuring a Virtual Reality dataspace called the “matrix.”

Image: Neuromancer, William Gibson


An online virtual world is born

Habitat, “a massively popular multiplayer role playing game,” was created by Randy Farmar and Chip Morningstar and made available as a beta test by Quantum Link, an online service for the Commodore 64.

Image: TheAlmightyGuru.com/wiki


1991-1992: Personal use becomes a reality

The first in-home VR headset, immersive VR movie and functional augmented reality come out of Sega, MIT and NASA – bringing VR one step closer to personal use.

Image: Sega VR and Ono-Sendai


Gaming VR grows more sophisticated

Sega releases the Sega VR-1 motion simulator arcade attraction, which tracks head movement and offers sophisticated graphics in stereoscopic 3D.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


The Matrix

The film that launched the public fascination with VR and AI is released in theaters and grosses over $460M worldwide.

Image: The Matrix, Lana and Lilly Wachowski


Oculus Rift

Partly based on work done by Mark Bolas at USC, Palmer Luckey designs the first prototype of the Oculus Rift. Later Facebook purchases Oculus VR for $2B.

Image: VRLife


Ready Player One

Book published by Ernest Cline transporting readers into a worldwide Virtual Reality game.

Image: Ready Player One, Ernest Cline


Low-persistence displays

Valve Corporation shares its breakthrough, low-persistence displays, which enable smear-free VR content.

Image: Valve Corporation


Gaming advances the game

Sony announces Project Morpheus, which becomes the PlayStation VR headset

Image: Sony


Facebook purchases Oculus VR for $2B

Image: Oculus


Google Cardboard

Google announced the DIY stereoscopic viewer Cardboard, used with a smartphone to enable a personal VR experience

Image: Google


The VR boom is here

As of 2016, there are at least 230 companies developing VR-related products. All of the big new-media players have dedicated AR and VR groups.

Image: Training Industry


Sensor-based tracking

The first major commercial release of sensor-based tracking in a VR headset is launched with VIVEs StreamVR product.

Image: HTC Vive


Enterprise adoption

Walmart becomes the first company to use VR to train 100K+ associates across 200+ Academies.

Image: Walmart


Experience on Demand published

Jeremy Bailenson makes 20 years of VR research accessible.

Image: Experience on Demand, Jeremy Bailenson


Oculus for Business announced

Facebook starts enterprise-focused VR team.

Image: Oculus/Facebook


Immersive Learning at scale

Walmart training over 1M associates using VR.

Image: Strivr