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The Quick and Dirty History of VR

May 02, 2019

by Kristina Bentle


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Using new technology is like cannonballing into a cold pool - it starts off cold and kind of painful, but eventually you warm up to it, and the next thing you know, it actually feels pretty normal.

Anytime a new technology is released, the cost is always a bit high for the average consumer. Yet, if marketing has done their job right, the laws of supply-and-demand kick in where the “want” eclipses the cost, and the product flies off the shelves.

But no matter how cool a technology is,  sometimes the craze, the “want”, doesn’t happen right away.

A lot of the technologies we all know and use everyday weren’t adopted into society super fast. The first lightbulb was revolutionary, the first car was bizarre, and flip phones outlived smartphones for a surprisingly long time.

These are all technologies we are so accustomed to that we take them for granted, and it’s hard to imagine a life without them.

A Tesla used to be like a lone batmobile driving down the road, and now, hey, it’s not impossible to see quite a few around here and there.

Ignoring some of the early predecessors to the iPhone, most of us think of Apple’s smartphone as the most memorable because of all the hype that went into this first real wave of truly mobile operating systems.

We saw a similar trend when video game consoles arrived.

The last few generations of consoles entered the market at a price-point that’s typically two to three hundred dollars more than they’ll be in a year or two. This doesn’t help knowing that producers still struggle to keep up in the early days, immediately after launch.

Other technology is hit or miss. This was especially true for VR devices – unlike a vehicle that provides transportation, a game console that provides entertainment, or a smartphone that does almost everything, real value was hard to conceptualize for VR.


But VR has evolved immensely in just under the last decade.

VR used to be considered a toy, but now people are starting to envision and create real educational and immersive learning using VR.

 In the following, we’re going to look at brief timeline of VR, the current evolution of the technology, and the value it brings to the table.


The Quick and Dirty History of VR

Since the 1950s, several attempts have been made at creating artificial reality, generating all kinds of different equipment configurations that intended to furnish an immersive, “life-like” experience. Science fiction kept the idea alive, but it wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that some companies made solid strives to bring VR to the mainstream.

There were a few major problems with these enterprises that prevented every wacky idea from entering the market. Most VR systems were hyper-specific, requiring sophisticated programming to create a modicum of an actual virtual experience. This flaw, factored with the pricey equipment required to build these systems, made any idea so expensive, it’s a wonder people didn’t receive a bill just for thinking about VR. Not to mention, the underlying technology to run these systems simply didn’t have the technical specs to produce impressive visuals needed to feel realistic.

No one who used the equipment from this era walked away thinking, “Wow, it’s just like real life!”

In hindsight, it’s a good thing a lot of these ideas flopped. Condolences to those that put their heart, souls, and wallets on the line to create a VR experience, but everything was, well… awful. The novelty was great, but it just wasn’t enough to sell these products. It wasn’t until 2010 for Oculus to re-open the minds of people to the idea of VR. If more consumers were to have forked over ridiculous amounts of cash for the insanely expensive ideas from twenty years ago, this likely would have stifled recent efforts to revive the idea of mainstream VR.


The VR Solutions of Today

You can basically sum up the half-century worth of VR first-attempts by saying VR didn’t work because the foundation it required hadn’t been built. Technology aside, another major contributor to the recent successes of VR has do with the advent of social media, the modern web, and the JOBS Act.

Truly, the Oculus was the first wide-spread, commercially successful VR concept and it simply wouldn’t have been possible without crowdfunding or Kickstarter. This device paved the way for the devices currently on the market, ultimately allowing other manufacturers to improve on the concept.

Today, we see the results of several companies investing time and resources into VR technology as there are several affordable solutions on the market, both for creating 3D environments with 360 cameras as well as VR headsets. Best of all, these items are available at price points for just about any budget.

The Application of VR: A Functional Tool for Work and Play

In the past, the idea of VR was mostly geared toward providing entertainment. While some of the earlier designs, such as NASA’s VR headset, were centered on supplementing education, most viewed the primary application being centered on fun. However, it was love of gaming and passion for “pushing the limits” that moved the ball down the court for virtual reality technology.

As Luckey puts it in his interview with Engadget, the Kickstarter campaign from 2012 showed confidence in the technology which has allowed the idea to transcend the boundaries of gaming. The technology has given way to an era of learning and training tools that are on the brink of revolutionizing how we can train individuals to perform complex tasks in less time than ever before.

Now that the technology has caught up with the idea, we can use this technology for a more interactive method of training at a price point that’s accessible to everyone. By using VR to teach people new skills, learning literally gains another dimension, extending beyond written literature and demonstrations.

Especially in skilled trades, the functions that professionals employ to perform any number of tasks occur in a three-dimensional world. Rather than rely on someone’s capacity for reading comprehension or ability to remember some process they watched in a demonstration, a person trained with VR can interact while they learn. This greatly reduces the time it takes to train someone to perform a technical task.

Full immersion into an environment allows for enhanced sensory input, improving cognitive learning capabilities. Much like how children learn – especially around the time they begin developing fine motor skills – these same principles of watching and mimicking what we see still assist us with learning processes later in life. By viewing procedures in a more natural manner, individuals can properly apply these lessons in the real world much faster than if reading instructions from a manual or recalling portions of a training video.

Final Thoughts

Though VR was formerly an inexpensive let down throughout the half-century of its existence, this is no longer the case today. The technology is both affordable and can do much more than simply provide entertainment. Get in contact with us at Interplay by email sales@interplaylearning.com so we can show you how our VR solutions take training to the next level.

VR is the cold pool of 2018. Jump on in and join us, we’ve been swimming in this pool for a while, and trust us, the water’s great!

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