The Second Rise of Virtual Reality

The 80s had the right idea and now technology is catching up. But this is way bigger than gaming.

April 30th 2015
Robert Stjärnström


Denna artikel publicerades ursprungligen på 30 april 2015.

The origin of the term “virtual reality” can be traced back to the French playwright, poet, actor, and director Antonin Artaud. In his seminal book The Theatre and Its Double from 1938, Artaud described theatre as “la réalité virtuelle”, a virtual reality in which, in Erik Davis’s words,

“characters, objects, and images take on the phantasmagoric force of alchemy’s visionary internal dramas”

The term was popularized by Jaron Lanier, one of the modern pioneers of the computerized virtual reality in the 1980:s. Lanier founded VPL Research in 1985; they developed and built some of the seminal “goggles and gloves” systems of that decade.

Unfortunately, Virtual Reality gear was both unaffordable and limited by the capabilities of the technology of the day. In 1992 Computer Gaming World predicted “affordable VR by 1994”, but subsequent Sega and Nintendo releases saw very little traction.

Two years ago, Palmer Luckey, a kid born during the waning days of VR’s late-20th-century golden era, put the pieces together using improved technology. He raised some money and soon developed the Oculus Rift, his own version of a clunky yet surprisingly capable headset. The graphics were basic but the experience was sufficiently lifelike to create worldwide hype.

Unlike the VR of the early 90s, this experience was realistic and immersive — and affordable.

Legendary i.d. software game programmer John Carmack (“Doom”, “Quake”) joined Oculus as CTO in 2013, sending a clear message, and before long Facebook got the memo as well; they bought Oculus for a whopping $2 billion, stating in no unclear terms the value they see in the advent of Virtual Reality.

The promise is this: Put on these goggles, go nowhere,
and be transported anywhere.

It’s escapism, sure — throw off the shackles of the mundane through a metaphysical transportation to an altered state — but one must not fail to see the bigger picture. This has the potential to change the way we operate on a multitude of levels.

The fact of the matter is, Virtual Reality is not just about entertainment. It is a tool; a means for prototyping our intended reality before we build it — be it a room, a building or a painstakingly detailed simulation of a Mission to Mars.

Virtual Reality may in fact prove to be even more transformative for the way we do business than the flat Web was; it reaches into every segment of every market and remaking it to be virtually accessible.

Think about it. The price you’ll pay for simulating reality with Oculus Rift is nothing compared to discovering mistakes during — or after — construction.


—Robert Stjärnström, COO