Extended reality, or XR, is an umbrella term for the various technologies that allow users to experience virtual or augmented environments. These technologies have been around for decades, but only recently have started to gain mainstream attention.
One of the earliest tastes of effective XR was the flight simulator, developed in the 1920s to train pilots. Pilots could experience the sensation of flying a plane without actually leaving the ground.
The invention of the Sensorama in the 1950s is considered by some as one of the first milestones in the history of XR. Created by Morton Heilig, the Sensorama was a machine that provided an immersive visual and audio experience for the user. It featured a stereoscopic display, stereo sound, and even a mechanism that simulated the sensation of motion.
In the 1960s, Ivan Sutherland developed a the virtual reality (VR) headset, called the Sword of Damocles. This headset was mounted on a ceiling and used a complex array of mechanical components and sensors to track the user’s head movement and display a 3D environment on a screen in front of their eyes. It was very simple 3D wireframe graphics.
In the 1990s, VR technology started to become more widespread and accessible to the general public. The first consumer VR headset, the Virtual Boy, was released by Nintendo in 1995. However, the high cost and limited capabilities of this device meant that it was not widely adopted.
The emergence of the World Wide Web during this time and the increasing capabilities of personal computers opened up new possibilities for XR. This was the era of the first VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) and other early attempts at creating interactive 3D environments on the web. VRML has still not seen widespread use however.
An AR system in the 90s called the Virtual Fixture System, was developed by the US Air Force to train pilots. This system used a head-mounted display to project virtual information onto the user’s field of view, allowing them to interact with the environment in a more natural way.
In the 1990s, the concept of a metaverse – a virtual world that exists beyond the constraints of the physical world – began to gain traction among tech enthusiasts and sci-fi fans. The term was coined by sci-fi author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, and it quickly captured the imaginations of many who saw the potential for such a world to revolutionize the way we interact with each other and the digital world.
During this time, several companies and organizations experimented with the development of the metaverse. The Metaverse Roadmap outlined the various components that would be needed to create a functional metaverse, including user-generated content, avatars, and real-time communication.
In the 1990s, internet connections were slow and unreliable, making it difficult to create a seamless virtual experience for users. Additionally, the cost of creating and maintaining a virtual world was expensive.
Despite these challenges, the concept of the metaverse continued to gain traction in the tech community. In 1997, the first-ever Virtual Worlds Conference was held in San Francisco, bringing together researchers, developers, and futurists to discuss the potential of the metaverse and how it could be used in various industries.
In the 2000s there was the creation of online platforms such as Second Life. These platforms allowed users to create their own avatars and interact with each other in virtual environments, providing a glimpse into the potential of the metaverse.
On the hardware side of things, Oculus, a company that was founded in 2012 by Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, Michael Antonov and Nate Mitchell released the first commercially successful VR headset, the Oculus Rift. The release of Oculus sparked a renewed interest in VR and XR and Facebook bought them in 2014.
The rise of smartphones and the development of AR and VR apps such as the AR filters on Snapchat have made extended reality technology more accessible and affordable to the general public. In 2016, Pokemon Go, an AR game that allowed users to catch virtual Pokemon in the real world, became a global phenomenon, demonstrating the adoptability of AR technology.
Throughout the 2010s virtual reality became more commercialized, with big names like Playstation coming out with their own headsets, Facebook, which had bet early on the idea, announced in October 2021 that they were going to “build the metaverse” and changed their name to Meta.
Meta’s announcement also drew attention towards virtual worlds such as the popular gaming platform Roblox and the social media platform VRChat and sparked conversations about what the Metaverse truly means.
There are currently two main competing ideas for the Metaverse. One is the model Meta is going with from the novel “Ready Player One” where the Metaverse is a large virtual world owned by one corporation. The other model is a decentralized web3 model which would essentially be the internet with digital asset interoperability and extended reality.
XR is gaining grown in a wide range of industries, including gaming, entertainment, education, military training, offices, and healthcare. With advancements in fields like haptic feedback, facial recognition, and artificial intelligence it’s likely that extended reality will become an even more integral part of our daily lives.
History of Metaverse 2000s
The concept of a metaverse, a virtual world where users can interact and engage with each other and digital entities, has been around since the 1980s. However, it was not until the 2000s that significant progress was made in developing this concept into a reality.
In the early 2000s, virtual reality technology began to advance, paving the way for more immersive and interactive experiences in the digital realm. This, combined with the widespread adoption of high-speed internet and the growth of social media, created the perfect conditions for the development of metaverse platforms.
One of the first and most notable examples of a metaverse platform is Second Life, which was launched in 2003. Second Life allowed users to create avatars and explore virtual environments, engage in commerce, and even attend virtual events and conferences. The platform quickly gained popularity, with over one million users by 2007.
Another major player in the metaverse development of the 2000s was the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft. Launched in 2004, World of Warcraft offered a vast virtual world where players could create characters, engage in quests and battles, and interact with other players. The game’s success led to the creation of other MMORPGs, such as EVE Online and Guild Wars.
In the late 2000s, the emergence of virtual reality headsets, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, further propelled the development of the metaverse. These headsets allowed users to fully immerse themselves in virtual environments and interact with digital objects and other users in a more intuitive way.
The 2010s saw the rise of augmented reality (AR) technology, which added a new dimension to the metaverse by allowing users to view and interact with digital content in the real world. This was exemplified by the popular mobile game Pokémon Go, which blended AR with GPS technology to create a location-based gaming experience.
The growth of metaverse platforms and technologies has not been without challenges. Privacy concerns, security risks, and the potential for addiction and isolation are just some of the issues that have been raised. However, the potential benefits of the metaverse, such as enhanced communication and collaboration, are clear.
As we move into the 2020s, the development of the metaverse is likely to continue at a rapid pace. The integration of AI, blockchain, and other emerging technologies will enable even more sophisticated and immersive experiences in the digital realm. The metaverse has the potential to revolutionize how we interact with each other and the world around us.