The first two such people, computer scientist Ivan Sutherland and student Bob Sproull, created “The Sword of Damocles,” widely considered to be the first Virtual Reality system. The device’s headset was so heavy that it needed to be suspended from a mechanical arm hanging from the ceiling; the disconcerting contraption is what inspired the “The Sword of Damocles” moniker. The movable mechanical arm, in combination with a head position sensor, made head tracking possible. A user would strap into the dangling headset and the system’s computer would output a three dimensional wireframe room to the stereoscopic display. Head tracking input determined the user’s simulated perspective. Moreover, the display unit was translucent and allowed the user to see some of their surroundings. This means that in addition to being the first Virtual Reality system, “The Sword of Damocles” laid claim to being the first Augmented Reality system. But this was 1968. Neither term was yet in use. In research papers the revolutionary invention is simply called “the ultimate display.”
Modern usage of the term Virtual Reality first occurs in The Judas Mandala, a 1982 science-fiction novel by Damien Broderick. The term began to enter the mainstream as a company called VPL (Visual Programming Languages) patented and peddled Virtual Reality products in the mid to late 80’s. By the early 90’s Virtual Reality was shaping up to be a national obsession; it featured in books, TV episodes, TV series, made-for-TV movies, and larger theatrical productions like The Lawnmower Man. Perhaps ironically, by this time VPL had already gone bankrupt. VR’s mainstream media presence would shortly share a similar fate; by the mid 90’s VR seemingly vanished from the cultural landscape…
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