Possible Worlds: The Social Dynamic of Virtual Reality Technology

By Ralph Schroeder | Go to book overview
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3
From the Laboratory to Consumer Electronics

How are the institutions engaged in VR research and development shaping the direction of the technology? Before we look in detail at the current scene, it may be useful to recapitulate the brief history presented in the previous chapter in schematic form. Until the midto late 1980s, research related to what was to become VR was mainly carried out in a handful of small laboratories nestled inside some of the powerhouses of advanced research in the United States. The main centers included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and NASA Ames Research Center. Other areas of the information and communication technologies sector have also been dominated by the United States, which has been the primary source for innovation in this sector in the postwar period because of the strength of its economy and cold war competition in advanced technologies.

During the early phase of VR development, from the mid- 1980s and into the early 1990s, the picture becomes somewhat more complicated. On the one hand, new research centers in the United States and in Europe (such as the Human Interface Technology Laboratory and the London Parallel Applications Center) and small firms (especially start-ups like VPL and W Industries, which is now called Virtuality) became the driving force behind creating and producing prototype VR systems and components. On the other hand, from about 1992 onward, these smaller institutions have been joined by -- or in some cases swallowed up by -- the VR efforts of large multinational companies like British Telecom, Matsushita, Sega, and Thompson

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