How Virtual Reality Endured Numerous Failures To Go From Sci-Fi Dream To World Changing Tech

09.30.16 3 weeks ago • 3 Comments


In 1968, at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, you could walk in and see what many consider the first true virtual reality device. Showing simple wireframe models to the user, it was a bulky, experimental rig, essentially two televisions hung from the ceiling. What many saw was the future of not just computer graphics, but a technology that could potentially change the world, a new way of simulating and solving real world problems. Simulating the real world in exacting detail promised to change engineering, architecture, physics, and a host of other disciplines. The rig at Lincoln was promise, concentrated, hanging from the ceiling in microchips and power tubes.

One observer, though, had more practical concerns. Observing the heavyweight, and the thin wires suspending it, an unknown wit christened it “The Sword of Damocles.” Unknowingly, he predicted the future of VR; just like the Sword of Damocles cuts both ways, VR has found enormous success even as the prize it really wants, a revolution led by a headset on every desk, continues to elude it.