Tag Archive: VPL Research

Beware the funny hair… its a tech cult giveaway

Matt Novak, in Smithsonian’s Paleofuture blog, draws some interesting contrasts between Jaron Lanier’s 1991 Omni Magazine interview and his current book: “You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto.

1990s virtual reality as seen in The Carousel of Progress (photo by Matt Novak)

While the Omni article portrays Lanier as

“…a man of vision, enthusiasm, and purpose, if a bit of an eccentric: “The Pied Piper of a growing technological cult, Lanier has many of the trappings of a young rock star: the nocturnal activity, attention-getting hair, incessant demands on his time.”

You Are Not A Gadget has the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction – techno-reactionary. As one reviewer puts it:

“Jaron Lanier is really, really bothered by a laundry list of standard arch-conservative nemeses (Marxism! today’s kids! filesharing! the breakdown of the social contract! foreigners stealing our jobs!) as well as a basket of useful-yet-imperfect modern technologies (Wikipedia! Blogs! MIDI! Linux!) He is aware of a sinister cabal of cybernetic totalists who are hard at work on a machine to xerox his brain and force him to use Facebook to meet girls.

He regularly starts a section with the assertion of a Great Digital Evil (the record industry is dying! bloggers don’t spell check!), then insinuates a link to his vague overarching thesis… his desire to save the world from the Great Digital Evil he has not quite described. Apparently people need to be more like squids – while remaining uniquely special humans, of course. Also, financial contracts should be written in LISP. And pop songs should live in coffee mugs so they can’t be downloaded. I kid you not.”

Head over to Matt’s take on the whole affair!


Platypus Headsets?

The Science Channel interviews Jaron Lanier who shows off some wide field of view headsets from the late 80’s. Jaron feels like a platypus when wearing one of these JumboTrons. The narrator’s conclusion (and Jaron’s as well): The state of the art in VR hasn’t progressed too much further.

(A tip of the hat to Aphradonis over at mtbs3d.com for finding this little gem!)


And I’m Never Going Back To My Old School

Two snippets from the old, old school of VR, circa 1991, pitching a reputable UK firm – Division (acquired by PTC in 1999.) Featured are a couple of helmets from VPL Research using LEEP optics and cloth/velcro enclosures. One HMD appears to have been modeled after a gask mask from the trenches of the Great War. Also featured is the VPL CyberGlove.

The killer app? Kitchen lighting! Benefits: prevent the dropping of crockery in the home. Kewl!

A tip of the hat to Mnemonic for tracking down these gems!

Take Flight in the Virtual World

By 1991, the FlightHelmet was the third HMD  to feature Large Expanse Extra Perspective (LEEP) optics from Eric Howlett’s LEEP-VR. The Flight Helmet combined LEEP’s 100° field of view with an adjustable, comfortable and rugged packaging design. The use of a rear exiting cable as a counterweight made this HMD perfectly balanced.

LEEP optics were originally used in the mid 80’s by VPL Research to produce a custom (> $100,000) HMD for NASA. In 1989 VPL followed with their own product, the Eyephones which also integrated LEEP’s optics. LEEP followed a couple of years later with their own helmet, the CyberFace.


All these LEEP based helmets suffered from the same critical problem, the only color LCDs available were in small handheld consumer TVs. All three manufacturers simply stripped down these consumer TVs and integrated their guts into a head mounted display. The effect of spreading 240 horizontal pixels over a 100° field of view made each pixel seem like a floating football from the wearer’s perspective.


As second issue was that the LCDs were physically too wide to match anyone’s inter-pupilary spacing (the distance between your two eyes, about 55m-70mm.) Thus the graphics system supplying the images to each eye had to calculate images which did not completely overlap; or prisms were installed in both eyepieces to resolve the incorrect spacing.

VPL Eyephones

VPL Eyephones

Epson’s entry into the small LCD (1.3″) market in 1992-1993 ended the age of LEEP helmets.

David Cassidy is Happy to Wear the Flight Helmet

David Cassidy is Happy to Wear the Flight Helmet