Garage Virtual Reality: DIY VR from 1993

vr_01I picked up this book many years ago. I don’t really recall exactly where or when, but it was when I was teaching 3D animation at a local community college. It really was a great book with tons of DIY stuff, both hardware and software. I ended up recreating our server room using VRML, you could explore it and click on any server to be taken to that server’s status (I was also in the IT department).

The book is Garage Virtual Reality by Linda Jacobson. You can find it on Amazon if you want a copy, and I highly recommend it for an VR enthusast.  Not only does it delve into the history of VR, it explains in detail the theory and advancements that have been made up to 1993.

Here is the table of contents to get you interested.


It also came with a disk full of software and demos!

The images in this book can be pretty enthralling. This isn’t all of them, but most.

One particular section is quite interesting to people right now. The HMD design that people were using in 1993 is virtually identical to the Oculus Rift. Palmer Luckey (founder of Oculus) noted that his designs weren’t particularly groundbreaking but rather technology was finally catching up to the design. You’ll note the design below is almost identical to the rift, however the accompanying electronics are very bulky. Performance would have been miserable in comparison as well.

I attribute much Palmer’s success to his passion and energy in promoting the conceptl. Anybody could have built basically the identical design, actually many did long before him, but not everyone had the ability to build the excitement around it. Sometimes it takes not only the right technology, but also the right people.

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8 Responses

  1. crampenstein says:

    so oclus stole the designs from these people and made 2 billion dollars?

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      No. just… no.
      As I said above, even Palmer says what he initially did wasn’t really new or groundbreaking. The concept had been around for a long time but lcd screens were too expensive and slow. The accompanying electronics were massive as well. Even electronic gyroscopes were huge back then.

      Nobody stole anything and cashed in here. quit whining about facebook.

    • kila says:

      Touch screens were tried for decades before the iPhone. Did Apple steal anything? No. iPad was also not the first tablet.

      Oculus Rift prototype wasn’t the first HMD or the first VR headset. It was the first single panel HMD with wide FOV and software distortion correction for simple lenses in the world.

      Now there are many Rift clones (HMDs which use the exact same solution presented by Palmer Luckey), one of them is Sony’s project Morpheus.

      It’s funny that a legendary multi-billion dollar company and the leader of electronics ditched almost two decades of its own research (Glasstron – 1996) with microdisplays and used approach inspired by a teenager who made a cheap prototype using duct tape and hot glue in his parents’ garage.

  2. jerry isdale says:

    hee hee, this takes me back (see page 301). amazingly I’m still in touch with many of these people (miss Randy P.)

    Back then we were using a 386PC as state of the art, hacking in Nintendo Power gloves, 3d shutter glasses and camcorder displays. SGI was bringing out its Reality Engine series.

    Today the rendering on my phone is way beyond what the RE and similar could do. And it comes with GPS, accelerometers, HDTV displays and easy ways to code for them.

    Yet the Head Mounted Display (HMD), glove and much other interface tech still remains stuck – not riding a doubling curve. The Occulus promises a lot with high res displays, tracking, and such. the optics are pretty good, although I havent worked with one very long.

    There are a LOT of human factors issues for HMD that people keep stumbling on, again. Read James E. Melzer’s books. (search him on amazon). his original is out of print but was VERY helpful back in the day (a copy is in one of those boxes over there). I see he has a new one out that looks promising (and not nearly as expensive)–Mounted-Displays-Mr-James-Melzer/dp/1456563491

    There are reasons Sony and others abandoned their HMD work. There are reasons why Window-on-World and projection displays are commercial products today and HMDs are not.

    Pay attention to the physiology of vision and ergonomics. Solve those issues and HMDs can be successful.

  3. Caleb Kraft says:

    Thanks Jerry!
    It looks like Sony is getting back in the game with Project Morpheus.

    The biggest hurdle I perceive is the fact that you’re putting something on your head that cuts off your senses to your local environment. It is just plain psychologically uncomfortable, no matter how good the display.

  4. I purchased my copy back in 1995. I loved that book and actually built the power glove interface listed in the book and got it working on my Mac IIvx (man that was a while ago!).

    The VR headset designs in the book were interesting, but at the time there were a number of problems.

    1) The LCD TV’s that were used were only 1.5″ screens I believe at an incredibly low resolution with composite inputs.
    2) The screens were over $200 a pop at the time, and you needed two.
    3) They were heavy even without batteries.

    The occulus rift was using one 5.5″ish smart phone LCD that is rather inexpensive by comparison and very light.

    This book is still an interesting read. The software that was included wasn’t much more than source code so unless you were familiar with Win16/32 at the time you wouldn’t do much with it. In fact the power glove interface designs were not included with the book. They provided a FTP location you had to go to and download the design and software. This was not easy in 1995 when AOL wouldn’t let you onto the wider internet.

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      I recall this book feeling like a sneak peek behind the scenes. The simple arm input tutorial kind of opened my eyes to what was possible in terms of interfacing with a computer dirt cheap.

  5. I wrote this book and just discovered your comments about its impact on your work and interests. Thanks for the memories! Take care and have fun, guys!

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