By Alexandra Booth
This past Christmas, the most popular gifts shown off on Snapchat stories and in Instagram photos were two things: instant Polaroid cameras and virtual reality headsets. Two technologies very different from each other – one pulled from the past, and one created in the future – but the inspiration for VR has been worked on since panoramic paintings and stereoscopic views in the late 1830s.
Once a rare and expensive technology, VR seems to be the hottest trend in the tech field right now. The experience can easily be achieved through one’s smartphone. But where did it start?
Before the term virtual reality was coined in 1987, artificial reality was developed in 1969, according to the Virtual Reality Society. Computer-generated environments were created, which allowed users to communicate with people from all over. Sixteen years later, Jaron Lanier, the founder of the virtual programming lab, crafted “virtual reality,” along with a range of gear.
Since then, companies like SEGA and Nintendo have produced and worked on different virtual reality products. While movies like “The Lawnmower Man” and “Tron” had parts representing an alternative reality space, “The Matrix” brought the idea of simulated reality into mainstream society due to its popularity.
Virtual reality gained more momentum after Palmer Luckey sold his company, Oculus VR, to Facebook, according to Time. It allowed for more employees to be hired and more people to work on advancing the technology into what we’re seeing today.
There are many uses for virtual reality. Arcades have opened specifically dedicated to virtual reality, in addition to other arcades that offer at least a few VR games and at home video games as well. Google is working on ways for VR to be more accessible in Chrome, according to Mashable.
Google Earth allows users to transport to different places in the world and have created Tilt Brush, where people can paint in a simulated reality and “walk” around their painting. Buzzfeed’s the Try Guys posted a video in February testing out this technology. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon also used virtual reality for a game of Pictionary with the guests on his show in December 2016 and March.
However, something that is often overlooked when it comes to VR is the affects it has on the human body. Researchers at UCLA tested rats in a fully immersive virtual reality environment, and this is the only lab in the United States to have done so thus far, according to Mashable.
“Sixty percent of neurons in the hippocampus shut down in virtual reality,” said Mayank Mehta, PhD, who works at the Center for Biological Physics at UCLA.
Tom Richmond, who works at the Institute for Creative Technologies at UCLA, mentioned the risk of hearing things that don’t correlate to what a person is seeing in the virtual world can cause pain to your inner ear and brain.
As it grows in popularity, virtual reality has many uses and will continue to have more. From detailing crime scenes, accessing parts of the world or playing a game, virtual reality is only in its prime and will continue to change the tech world.