Virtual reality (VR) offers the possibility of moving through an entirely imagined space, an artificial environment that exists in images but not in real life. Not so long ago, VR was familiar mostly as a plot device in sci-fi movies such as The Matrix or Ready Player One — now, however, it is an increasingly established real-world technology with applications ranging from gaming and entertainment to medicine and the military.
The desire to create and experience a virtual reality has roots older than the Keanu Reeves franchise. The concept is arguably at least as old as photography, even if the term “virtual reality” was created more recently. Soon after the invention of the camera, stereoscopes were used to create the illusion of three dimensions using only two still images. Another milestone in the history of VR experiences was the Sensorama, invented by Morton Heilig in 1962, which combined wraparound projections and artificial wind and odors, released at key moments, to increase the authenticity of the experience (the original experience consisted of a bike ride through Brooklyn, New York).
These days, virtual reality experiences are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Engineers and programmers are creating lifelike experiences that respond to every physical motion of participants as they travel through imaginary worlds without leaving their living rooms. VR is no longer a novelty but an innovative tool in all kinds of professional applications.