Today we describe the Metaverse as a fully immersive Internet, where we will be able to access augmented and virtual reality and interact with all kinds of environments using persistent avatars and innovative digital technology.
The thing is, the metaverse isn’t new!
Let’s take a look at some of the key historical milestones that have led us to where we are today as we develop cutting-edge Web 3.0 technology.
It all started in 1838 when scientist Sir Charles Wheatstone described the concept of “binocular vision”, where you combine two images – one for each eye – to create a single 3D image.
This concept led to the development of stereoscopes, a technology where the illusion of depth is used to create an image. It’s the same concept used today in modern VR headsets.
We now fast forward to 1935 when American science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum published the book Pygmalion’s Spectacles, in which the main character explores a fictional world using a pair of glasses providing sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
The first VR machines
Morton Heilig created the first VR machine, the Sensorama Machine, in 1956. This machine simulated the experience of riding a motorcycle in Brooklyn by combining 3D video with audio, scents, and a vibrating chair to immerse the viewer. Heilig also patented the first head-mounted display in 1960, which combined stereoscopic 3D images with stereo sound.
In the 1970s, MIT created the Aspen Movie Map, which allowed users to take a computer-generated guided tour of the city of Aspen, Colorado. It was the first time we could use virtual reality to transport users to another location.
The term “metaverse” was first used in Neil Stevenson’s 1982 novel Snow Crash. Stevenson’s Metaverse was a virtual place the characters could go to escape a grim totalitarian reality.
In the early 1990s, Sega introduced VR arcade machines like the SEGA VR-1 motion simulator, which users enjoyed in many arcades.
In 1998, Sportsvision broadcast the first live NFL game with a yellow yard marker, and the idea of overlaying graphics over real-world views quickly spread to other sports broadcasts.
Then Palmer Luckey, an 18-year-old entrepreneur and inventor, created the prototype for the Oculus Rift VR headset in 2010. With its 90-degree field of view and use of computer processing power, the revolutionary headset revived the interest in virtual reality.
Ernest Cline released the book Ready Player One in 2011, giving us another glimpse into a completely immersive world we could step into to escape reality. The book became a runaway hit, and director Steven Spielberg made it into a movie in 2018.
Facebook acquired Oculus VR in 2014 in a $2 billion deal. At that time, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook and Oculus would work together to grow the Oculus platform and develop partnerships to support more games.
Also in 2014 – a busy year for XR – Sony and Samsung both announced they were making their own VR headsets, and Google launched its first Cardboard device and the Google Glass AR glasses. Google’s Cardboard device is a low-cost cardboard VR viewer for smartphones.
Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets hit the market in 2016, giving us mixed reality (AR and VR) for the first time. With HoloLens, we can create a holographic image in front of us, then place it in the real world and manipulate it using augmented reality. Also in 2016, people around the world were running around their neighborhoods trying to catch Pokémon using the augmented reality game Pokémon GO.
Swedish furniture giant IKEA joined the metaverse in 2017 with its innovative Place app, which lets you select a piece of furniture and see how it looks in your home or office.
In 2020, Apple added Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) to iPhones and iPads, creating better deep analytics for better photos and AR, and also paving the way for mixed reality headsets in the future.
Facebook changed its name to Meta in 2021, indicating its desire to shape the future of the metaverse. Two companies have also launched smart glasses (Ray-Ban Stories) or highly wearable virtual reality headsets that look like sunglasses (HTC’s Vive Flow).
I think we’ll continue to see huge advancements in immersive experiences in 2022. For example, Apple is currently working on headsets that could potentially replace our smartphones as the interface in the metaverse of the future.
Watch this space for more updates! Subscribe here or check out my book, Extended Reality in Practice: 100+ Incredible Ways Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality are Changing Business and Society.