V-Rtifacts

And All That Hype

A VR Who’s Who From 1994 – uniVRsum

1994 marks the peak of what many view as the first “Big Bubble” in VR popularity. There were literally hundreds of (mostly) entrepreneurial startups taking a wild fling and what seemed to be a game-changing technology. You could strike sparks anywhere! By 1997 most had either vanished or transformed themselves. If you stood in just the right place, with the right kind of eyes, you could almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back. (Thanks HST!)

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Thanks to Zenka – Zenka.org – for the totally cool Sega VR sculpture.

In the first half of 1994 a group of students, with the limited support of a few industry players, known as VRASP (Virtual Reality Alliance of Students and Professionals) embarked on the uniVRsum project to integrate the diverse and incompatible VR technologies flooding the market. This was to culminate in a presentation at Siggraph ’94, the premiere computer graphics conference and trade show.

One of uniVRsum’s first steps was to compile a database of the VR company/product universe. As one of the few industry supporters, I had access, thanks to Karin August at VRASP, to a copy of this fascinating compendium. Twenty-two years later, it resurfaced in an old file box.

Here’s a fairly comprehensive survey of 120 companies active in the VR marketplace in early 1994. A few remain, but most are lost, “like tears… in the rain.”

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Click for entire listing PDF

 

 

 

Recent Job Posting: Seeking – Principal Teledildonics Integration Engineer

VRSex

According to several women writers, a hot hi-tech hiring wave will be seeking: Teledildonics Integration Engineers and Fleshlight API Programmers (FAPs.) While porn has been trying to edge into Virtual Reality Sex, and VR keeps trying to penetrate the porn market, maybe the moment for this market to explode has finally come. As with most provocative blogs, the real meat of interest is in the comments sections of these posts. Let’s just say it’s a sausage fest.

We all know what enabled the VCR to become ubiquitous. One marketing school of thought foresees being virtually jacked-in as the app which will put a Rift in every home.

Fruzsina Eordogh evaluates the state of the art in VR porn (NSFW):

The porn of the future is titillating. As virtual reality matures, we’ll be aroused in three-dimensional immersive alternative realities, interacting with super-lifelike porn stars customized to our taste. People will look back on our passive and lonely 2D smut and pity us.

Retired adult performer Aurora Snow, in “In-Your-Face 3D is the Future of Porn“, adds to the hype.

A webcam girl could offer a “hands on” interactive session without ever having to leave the bedroom or swap bodily fluids. A porn star could give an explicit how-to tutorial to a couple a thousand miles away. The world of porn is about to change… All joking aside, what was once considered an expensive gimmick (VR) is on the verge of going mainstream.

And Gina Lynn (not the porn star) tells us The 10 Real Reasons Why Geeks Make Better Lovers. Numero uno: “Geeks build it so you will come!”

Geek lovers combine a well-developed and oft-exercised erotic imagination with their physical technique. It isn’t a big leap from “I’m a level-13 thief, evil-aligned” to “I’m the prison warden and you’re the new detainee.”

VRtifacts has covered 25 years of predictions that Virtual Sex will be the killer app.

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Virtual Reality (1991) – “Many Believe It Will Revolutionize The Way We Live”

ABC Primetime covers the VR scene in Sept. 1991. Although this news report conflates computer animation footage with Virtual Reality, it also features interviews with Jon Waldern, Fred Brooks, Howard Rheingold, Mike McGreevey, and C L Dodgson (virtually, of course.) With the advantage of hindsight, it’s interesting to see which predictions from 23 years ago have panned out and which are way out in left field.

… and from the where-are-they-now club, we get a brief glimpse of video footage from Symbolics Inc. (remember LISP?), a hot up-and-comer in computer graphics back in the day.

The Great Bubble

2013 has brought much excitement to the VR world, especially the perception of great breakthroughs in Head Mounted Display products. Can we take a deep breath, then hold up a distant mirror to the cautionary history of VR from 1993-1998. Back then there also was a fever pitch of excitement as companies pitched great breakthroughs, attracted outsize investments from private and public markets, and yet, the best of them crashed and burned, taking their investors, customers, and vendors down with them.

I invite you to review this chronological collection of VR news reports beginning with the fire sale of VPL’s much vaunted patent portfolio. The reports follow the rise and fall of three VR industry giants: Virtuality, IO Systems, and Superscape. I present these as examples, but they’re not alone. Very few VR firms escaped the 90’s. Sadly the VR bubble burst long before the late 90’s tech bubble burst. It wasn’t the economy – stupid!

Does history repeat itself?

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The Cart Before The Horse, Once Again – Project Glass

Google has been tearing through the bandwidth over at the Patent Office in defense of Project Glass, April’s much touted announcement of Google’s entry into the world of augmented reality and head mounted displays. One especially clever patent covers their bases on the use of glasses nose-bridge as a power switch.

Trouble is: where’s the beef? ReadWriteWeb nicely summarizes just why Google stressed that their promo video was just a “concept”, not anything we should expect in the foreseeable future. A few well aimed snippets from their article:

What a disappointment! Google’s prototype heads-up display glasses do not have the Terminator-style graphics shown in the concept video. They just show a simple readout above the user’s line of sight for now. That’s no fun.

After the video came out, Google execs immediately started showing up at conferences and on talk shows wearing Google glasses. But they were vague about the actual capabilities of these prototypes. When Sebastian Thrun dared to demo the camera while live on the Charlie Rose show, the result was pretty harrowing.

Concept videos cross the line when the company can’t deliver the goods. That’s why it’s risky to make them. As writer John Gruber is fond of pointing out, that’s why Apple stopped making such videos. Apple learned its lesson. Now it ships the devices of the future before it ever shows them off, leaving its competitors looking like they’re trying too hard.

Anyway, read the article and decide for yourself…

You may also enjoy this “concept” video:

 

 

 

Sega VR – Mighty Barfin’ Power Rangers (we are the 40 percent)

Sega (all hail Sonic!): 1991 brought the announcement of Sega VR, a $200 headset for the Genesis console, a prototype finally shown at summer CES 1993, and consigned to the trash heap of VR in 1994, before any units shipped. Sega claimed that the helmet experience was just too realistic for young children to handle, but the real scoop from researchers showed that 40% of users suffered from cybersickness and headaches. It’s fair to say that Sega undoubtedly anticipated a sea of lawsuits; as one pundit in the industry put it: “It will be like the Pinto’s exploding gas tank.”

Perfectly capturing the annoying VR hype of the era is Alan Hunter’s (MTV) summer 1993 CES intro of Sega VR:

Money quote from a teen featured in the promo: “I thought I was going to have to wait till I was old… like 30, to get VR at home!” It’s now 2012, he’s closing in on 40, and still waiting.

Much more info can be found in Ken Horowitz’s 1994 review. Four games were produced especially for Sega VR, never to be released.

Here’s some sense of the much feared “realism” which provoked Sega to pull the plug on production:

Much to Sega’s credit, their VR fail was at least an original marketing effort, whereas later in the 1990’s, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy and Atari’s (Virtuality designed) Jaguar VR crashed and burned in much the same mode (although at far greater expense.)