In the realm of technology, aside from trying to make better products smaller, more efficient, and most cost effective, one of the burgeoning not-so-new topics is today’s word – virtual reality. While many of us were first introduced to virtual reality in the late 1980’s with the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Power Glove controller accessory, the limitations at the time kept the technology from really reaching its potential. However, in the almost 30 years that have passed, virtual reality finally seems ready to have the impact it has meant to have. Still, while the ideas and the technology are nothing new, many people still don’t understand what it is or the potential that it has.
The compound word virtual reality comes from the Medieval Latin virtualis, meaning (in this instance) ‘influencing by physical virtues or capabilities’, and from the French réalité, meaning, ‘the quality of being real’. Though the separate terms have been in English for centuries, the compound word was first recorded in use in the 1958 translation of Antonin Artaud’s collection of essays, Le Théâtre et son double (The Theatre and its Double) to describe the illusory world of theatre.
And taken to refer to ‘a computer-generated simulation of a lifelike environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way’ has only been in use for approximately 40 years. The first known use appears in a 1979 Programming Announcement from IBM’s Data Processing Division and states that: “A base to develop an even more powerful operating system,..designated ‘Virtual Reality’…to enable the user to migrate to totally unreal universes.”
Much like Da Vinci’s ideas for an aerial screw, which was among the first designed ideas for what we would consider a helicopter, the idea of virtual reality is surprisingly also far from being new. For example, in the early 1930’s Laurence Manning wrote of people asking to be connected to a machine that could simulate senses with electrical impulses; moreover, 2 years later, Stanley G. Weinbaum in his Pygmalion’s Spectacles wrote of a professor who has invented a pair of goggles that allow the wearer to enter completely into fictional experiences. Sounds familiar?
Beyond the time that the idea has existed, it now appears that the market is ready to accept such technology. Starting with a paltry market revenue of USD 62 million in 2014, the US virtual reality market revenue is expected to grow to over USD 9 billion by 2025. Looking at market access and usage, active users worldwide have already grown from 200,000 in 2014 to 171 million in 2018; additionally, this is considering that, in a 2017 US survey, only 33% of people have reportedly tried using the technology at all, though 68% have an interest in it.