FROM ELECTRIC JINN TO CYBORG MANN, OR A LITTLE ABOUT “PARENTS” OF VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY

FROM ELECTRIC JINN TO CYBORG MANN, OR A LITTLE ABOUT “PARENTS” OF VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY

Augmented and virtual reality gradually hover stepping on and replacing the life we are used to call reality. Thus, we’ve decided to talk about when exactly another reality – augmented and virtual – stepped into our world. Infinite Internet offers the most contradictory versions – as it usually does. Lets pick the most interesting out of them.

Let us not talk about the medieval philosophy in which the term virtus is mentioned for the first timenot because its not interestingbut solely because logician Johannes Duns Scotus has a very vague relation to how virtual, augmented and other kinds of reality areperceived today.

However, the fact that the great fairy tale writer Lyman Frank Baum who created the marvelous land of Oz and described the effect of augmented reality back in 1901 in his fairy tale The Master Key is much more important for us to understand this magic technical innovation.

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Year 1901. Tale of sense if not of truth, or the great grandfather of augmented reality

The main character of Baum’s story – boy Rob – accidentally calls for an electric jinn having touched the Master Key. The Jinn – as they usually do – gives some magic electric gifts to the boy which include virtual glasses which allow to distinguish between good and bad people – we are really sorry that the creators of the AR-glasses do not include this feature. But Baum’s imagination saw a kind of electronic display which layers some information over the real life.

It should be also mentioned that in this fairy tale, the prophetic fairy tale writer described wireless connection, portable TV set, laptops, electric shockers and other devices which have not yet been invented by people. Well the inventors should be reading fairy tales more often.

Year 1957. The father of virtual reality

Remarkably, the father of virtual reality is not at all an inventor, scientist or engineer. Morton Heilig was a Hollywood moviemaker beginner.

The Sensorama virtual simulator – according to Heilig’s words – was an immersion theater and became the foundation for AR at the end of fifties. Morton Heilig patented virtual simulator or so called automated workplace. A person sat down on a chair in front of a screen, put his head in a special camera and rushed on a bike down the streets of Bruklin. A three-dimension Sensorama film allowed to hear synchronized stereo sound, feel the wind breeze, holes in the road and even smell different smells. However, Sensorama mass production wasn’t started – no one took the risk of investing money into this revolutionary adventure.

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Year 1963. Damocles’ sword by Ivan Sutherland

American scientist and Harvard Professor Ivan Sutherland together with one of his students Bob Sproull invented a 3D display which was put on a person’s head, a non-official name for which was Damocle’s sword.

What was that? Ivan Sutherland created one of the first virtual reality helmets as we understand them today. The images were transferred to virtual helmet glasses from a computer. The helmet, however, was way too much heavy – it had to be fixed to ceiling. That is why this invention got its ironic nick name – Damocle’s sword.

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What happened afterwards? Fruitful 70ies 

Year 1972. Computer designer Myron Crueger introduces the term artificial reality for the definition of results which could be received upon video layering an image of an object (person) onto a computer image.

Year 1977. Aspen Movie Map computer program was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologies which allowed to have a virtual walk down the American city of Aspen. This program is said to be the first visualization of virtual reality. Besides, a mode of sightseeing could be chosen.

he same year, Daniel Sandin, Richard Sayre and other EVL engineers invented a glove which transferred hand movements to a computer. The device was called after one of its authors – Sayre Glove.

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80-ые. О человеке-киборге Стиве Манне, который изобрел очки дополненной реальности почти 30 лет назад

80ies. About a cyborg person Steve Mann who invented augmented reality glasses almost 30 years ago

A weird person began to show up on Toronto streets at the end of 70ies – he was wearing a weird thing on his head and a huge bag pack on his back. It was a Canadian scientist and computer engineer Steve Mann who invented and validated the first prototype of “smart glasses” back in 1978. It goes without saying that the device wasn’t characterized by a particular elegance: a huge helmet with a bunch of wires and radio antennas. Computer was located in the bag pack.

Computer display allowed to layer some graphic elements on real objects thus changing, augmenting and improving reality. Mann looks at the world through microscopic camera lenses and videotapes everything which is going on around him.

 

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Mann’s devices were becoming more and more elegant with time. One of his smart glasses – EyeTap is a good example of that.

A small camera is installed in EyeTap. Video reaches computer, gets modified (improved) and only then the image is projected on eye retina. EyeTap filters and removes extra sun light due to which Mann can easily look at the sun. EyeTap helps to see objects which can’t be seen with a regular man’s eyesight because they’re too distant. Mann’s glasses have some additional value – they recognize and block ads.

The inventions of the cyborg person have one significant difference from the “smart glasses” which are produced today. Augmented and virtual reality glasses layer virtual level on reality, but Steve Mann tries to artificially improve human eyesight.

Steve Mann’s inventions surprisingly overlap with the forefather of augmented and virtual reality, the fairy tale writer Frank Baum and with his story of the magic helmet which allows to see and improve human life and to see the invisible.

When we’re surrounded by “smart lights”, “smart toilets”, “smart refrigerators”, and the like, what’s wrong with having “smart people”?  That is, what is wrong with putting intelligence on people?” Professor Steve Mann

If you’re interested to know what is the difference between the augmented and the virtual reality you can go here.