Forget Oculus Rift. The inventor of virtual reality wanted a holodeck

The Sword of Damocles HMD Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg broke the news that Facebook bought virtual reality device Oculus Rift for about $2 billion. It’s a sign that VR is coming back, but it all started in 1968.

Think Oculus Rift is a cool name? Try Sword of Damocles

In 1968, Ivan Sutherland and David Evans (both PhDs) began working together at the University of Utah. Their work in computer graphics made them VR pioneers, and the flight simulator became a particular highlight of their work. One of Sutherland’s projects was creating a virtual reality system with a head-mounted display. It quickly became known as the “Sword of Damocles” because of the way it hung over the viewer. As Sutherland writes in an early paper about the device, it worked right away. “Even with this relatively crude system, ” he wrote, “the three-dimensional illusion was real.”

An industry pioneer looked to a far-future (like Star Trek)

Even as an industry pioneer, Sutherland imagined an even more fantastic future. Was his fantasy about an Oculus Rift-like device with hyperreal graphics? No, it was even better: it was something like Star Trek’s holodeck. In an even earlier paper from 1965, he envisioned the endgame of virtual reality. It was the holodeck that every nerd dreams about: “The ultimate display would, of course, be a room within which the computer can control the existence of matter. A chair displayed in such a room would be good enough to sit in. Handcuffs displayed in such a room would be confining, and a bullet displayed in such a room would be fatal. With appropriate programming such a display could literally be the The Ultimate Display Wonderland into which Alice walked.” Oculus Rift acquisition aside, we’re still waiting.

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What would you pay for a holodeck like Sutherland described?