In the last quarter of a century, there have been major, rapid developments in the field of virtual reality. What began as a science fiction fantasy, or something that found its home in quirky arcade games, has now bloomed into the most promising advancement the technology industry has seen in years. VR products are just on the cusp of flooding the consumer market, and are already seeing use in journalism, entertainment, and politics. Entrepreneurs and pioneers of virtual reality are continuing to push the boundaries of how it can be used- exploring virtual reality as an art form, its impact on digital communication, and its effect on psychology and social interactions.
Definition and History
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of the real world that offers the appearance of three dimensions and the ability to interact with the computer-generated environment. Virtual reality devices, such as headsets, helmets, goggles, and gloves, are used to create sensory experiences. The term virtual reality was coined in the 1980s by Jaron Lanier, a VR pioneer whose ground-breaking research laid the foundation for the innovative virtual reality devices being developed today. Although the term is only a few decades old, the technology has been years in the making. Some of the ancestors of today’s VR devices include flight simulators that were used to train pilots during World War 2. Head mounted virtual reality devices were first pioneered in the 1960s. These devices featured sound and primitive graphics, but a way of interacting with the computer-generated environment had not yet been developed.
In recent years, Google, Samsung, and Sony have all released VR headsets and the video game industry has continued to drive the development of consumer virtual reality. The newest innovation in VR technology is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset developed and manufactured by Oculus VR, a division of Facebook Inc. Released in 2016, the device comes complete with touch controllers and allows for all dimensions of sensory perception. Further developments in VR hardware will bring more software content, and will ultimately result in a drop in prices, opening the floodgates to the consumer market. Entrepreneurs and innovators such as Nonny De la Peña, Jeremy Bailenson, and Chris Milk continue to pursue this goal, revolutionizing the technology industry and how we perceive our world in the process.
Nonny De la Peña
Known as “The Godmother of Virtual Reality,” Nonny De la Peña single-handedly created the field of immersive journalism, in which virtual reality technology is used to give a person the sense that they are physically present and directly engaging with an event happening in the news. Fast Company named her “One of the People Who Made the World More Creative” for her pioneering work. As CEO of Emblematic Group, her digital reality media company, she has produced innovative technology and content that is capable of taking you to the center of the action. A former correspondent for Newsweek, De la Peña has more than 20 years of award-winning experience in print, film, and TV. She has also spoken at TED, presenting virtual reality as the future of news. Her work with virtual reality and film has involved both news-based and fictional stories. De la Peña’s film Hunger in LA is a great example of her particular brand of socially conscious journalism, which she has described as being a “visceral empathy generator.”
At Stanford, Jeremy Bailenson is the Founding Director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, the Thomas More Storke Professor of Communication, and the Director of the Doctoral Program in Communication, among other roles. He studies the psychology of virtual reality and how social interactions differ between virtual and real-world experiences. His extensive research has resulted in 100 academic papers in various journals and grants and funding from organizations such as the National Science Foundation. Bailenson is a pro bono consultant on VR policy for government agencies including the State Department, the US Senate, and Congress. He is also the co-author of Infinite Reality, the revolutionary book on the psychology of virtual reality, which was quoted by the Supreme Court during a case dealing with the effects of immersive media. Bailenson has written opinion pieces for major newspapers and magazines, produced three VR documentaries, and recently written a book entitled Experience on Demand, which was published in January of this year.
Through his ground-breaking work as an entrepreneur, director, photographer, and immersive artist, Chris Milk has become one of the most accomplished innovators in the field of virtual reality. He is the founder and CEO of the virtual reality technology company Within and the co-founder of the virtual reality production company Here Be Dragons. Milk first gained recognition as a music video director, working with the likes of U2, Kanye West, and Johnny Cash. His video for Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown” was named as one of TIME magazine’s 30 best music videos of all time and was exhibited at MoMA in 2011. Since then, Milk’s work has seamlessly blended new forms of communication and storytelling with recent advancements in media and technology. He has been named in Adweek’s Creative 100 list, in Advertising Age’s list of 50 Most Creative People, and as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. He has spoken at TED about virtual reality as an art form and the potential effect virtual reality may have on the progress of humanity.
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