1. Page 1
Unit 8 – Task 4 – Developing Technologies Mini Essay – Virtual Reality
By Chelsie Brandrick
Virtual reality typically refers to computer technologies that use headsets to generate
realistic images, sound and other sensations that replicate a real environment or create
an imaginary setting to transport users. A person using virtual reality equipment is able
to look around at their surroundings, and with high quality images move around and
interact with features or items depicted in the headset. Virtual reality headsets are head-
mounted goggles with a screen in front of the eyes that usually is powered by a phone.
The exact origins of virtual reality are disputed, partly because of how difficult it has
been to formulate a definition for the concept of an alternative existence. Elements of
virtual reality have been present as early as the 1860s with French playwright Antonin
Artaud, who used avant-garde work to blur illusion and reality to be one and the same.
But virtual reality surfaced properly in the 1950s when Morton Heilig built an
‘Experience Theatre’ that was designed to encompass all the sense in an effective
manner. Around the same time Ivan Sutherland, with the help of his student Bob
Sproull, created what is widely considered to be the first virtual reality headset. The
headset was so heavy it had to be suspended from the ceiling and the graphics were
simple wire-frame model rooms.
A more successful version was produced in 1978 at MIT called the Aspen Movie Map.
The programme was a virtual simulation of Aspen, Colorado where users could wander
the streets in three modes: summer, winter and polygons. The two seasons were based
on photographs; researchers actually photographed every possible movement through
the city’s street grid.
The virtual reality industry mainly provided devices for medical, flight simulation and
automobile industry design purposes from 1970 – 1990.
The 1990s saw the first widespread commercial releases of consumer headsets. In 1991,
Sega, a popular gaming company, announced the Sega VR headset for arcade games
and the Mega Drive console. It used LCD screen I the visor, stereo headphones and
2. Page 2
inertial sensors that allowed the system to track and react to the movements of the users
head. In the 1990s Antonio Medina, a MIT graduate and NASA scientist, designed a
virtual reality system to drive Mars rovers from Earth in apparent real time despite the
substantial delay of Mars-Earth-Mars signals.
By 2007, Google introduced Street View, a service that shows panoramic views of an
increasing number of worldwide positions such as roads, indoor buildings and rural
areas. In 2010, Palmer Luckey designed the first prototype of the Oculus Rift. This
prototype was built on the shell of another virtual reality headset but boasted a 90-
degree field of vision that was new in the consumer market at the time. In 2013, Valve
discovered and freely shared the breakthrough of low-persistence displays, which make
lag-free and smear-free display of virtual reality content possible. This was adopted by
Oculus and used in all their future headsets.
By 2016, there were over 230 companies all competing to develop virtual reality related
products. Currently major brands Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony
and Samsung all have employees focused on virtual reality development.
Virtual reality technology has aided professionals and has enabled many industries to
train employees, explore and test new theories and improve customer’s lifestyles. For
example, virtual reality head mounted displays are used in gaming to improve the
gamer’s leisure experience, NASA has used virtual reality technology for twenty years
for training astronauts while the are still on Earth and the military have developed an
immersive cockpit to train pilots. Virtual reality is also being used in the healthcare
industry for clinical therapy. The technology has significantly reduced patient’s
symptoms for anxiety disorders, PTSD and in pain management.
Virtual reality also offers users a social outlet as they can speak with other users via
video games. The new technology can connect real life with the Internet and enhance
relationships by forming them based on interests rather than location.
Some virtual reality worlds have been created for educational purposes by academic
institutions or non-profit organizations to enable users to enjoy 3D world recreations of
3. Page 3
museums, computer programming tutorials, virtual libraries and meeting spaces for
online university courses.
The technology enables users a chance to experience things that would other wise be
unlikely or impossible. For example, virtual reality could enhance a terminally ill
persons time if they are unable to travel or it allows people to safely play out their
fantasies such as killing zombies or re-enacting dangerous movie scenes which is a
better alternative than doing said activities in public where people could be hurt.
However, as virtual reality is a relatively new technology it still contains some issues.
The hardware required to create a fully immersed virtual world experience is expensive
and takes too long to make to sell it to the consumer as the technology for such an
experience is still experimental.
Although virtual reality devices aid training courses in a variety of industries, training in
a virtual world environment doesn’t have the same consequences as training and
working in the real world. This may give trainees false hope and ideas about the job
they are working towards. For example, Chesley Sullenberger an American airline pilot,
landed a US Airways Flight in the Hudson River off Manhattan after the plane was
disabled by a striking flock of Canadian geese. During the Captain’s questioning by the
National Transportation Safety Agency, the agency used virtual reality technology to
prove that Captain Sullenberger made the wrong decision. He argued that the
technology doesn’t take reaction time and emotions into consideration and is not an
accurate depiction of what happens in the real world. The agency later adjusted the
simulator to account for reaction time and Sullenberger was able to keep his pilots
license and flawless reputation. But if Chesley hadn’t spoken out about his concerns of
the technology, his career would have been over and his reputation tarnished, which
proves how the technology can have negative effects.
Virtual reality technology enables the user to escape their normality but this can have a
detrimental effect on people’s lives as they could focus on the fictional world and
neglect their responsibilities in real life. Plus due to the fast paced development of
virtual reality and online worlds, there is a lack of laws regarding what can and cannot
4. Page 4
be done. Users can say and do things in these worlds that would otherwise be illegal and
they may feel less inhibited than in reality due to a sense of anonymity and may act in a
may that is socially unacceptable.
Virtual reality has taken an important place in many industries and has aided NASA and
militaries and companies around the world. Consumers can transport themselves into
another world, connect with people around the globe and visit real life places they may
be unable to go. Further research is still being carried out in order to make
improvements to current technology as well as create a fully immersive world that users
can navigate by walking around. Virtual reality offers the world entertainment and
serious uses and the technology is becoming increasingly cheaper and widespread. I
hope to see many more innovative uses for the technology in the future and I believe the
industry is in its early days and that virtual technology will be apart of our daily lives in
30 years from now.
Word Count: 1236.
Sully. 2016. [Film]. Clint Eastwood. Dir. USA: Village Roadshow Pictures & Flashlight
Wikipedia. 2004. Virtual Reality. [Online]. [Accessed 1 May 2017]. Available from: